Points will be at a premium for Tigers
Don’t expect points. Perish the thought now.
Poudre and Grand Junction have established all season they get the job done on defense, and their opponents have suffered the consequences.
So, when the two meet at 6:30 tonight in Fort Collins in the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A state girls basketball playoffs, expect points to be few and hard-earned.
Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said Poudre (19-5) has the No. 1 defense in the state for fewest points allowed per game at 32, and his Tigers (22-2) aren’t far behind, allowing a mere 35 points per game.
“They play straight man, and if the ball goes inside, they collapse real hard,” Provenza said of the Impalas, who are seeded second in the Alice Barron Region, one spot above Grand Junction. “They’re very paint-conscious. They try to keep you out of the paint, not allowing any easy shots inside.”
That approach has become familiar to the Tigers late in the season as opposing defenses tried to keep them away from the basket and limit the damage Grand Junction’s two 6-footers, Sarah Wilkinson and Tori Catlett, can do with passes inside. Defenses also have packed the paint to take away drives from Tigers point guard Sydni Brandon.
Grand Junction has been able to solve those efforts, winning their past six games by scoring at least 50 points in each game.
Their challenge now is to solve a Poudre defense that yielded more than 50 points twice in 24 games and kept opponents below 40 points 19 times.
“We’re going to have to play a good perimeter game,” Provenza said. “We’re going to have to move the ball with some confidence, get some of their paint players to commit and give us some lanes, some looks.”
What Grand Junction’s defense will face is an offense fueled by three tall players who are comfortable inside and outside.
Myanne Hamm, a 5-foot-11 senior guard and Colorado State University recruit, leads the team in points (13.9 per game), rebounds (5.4 per game) and steals (64). Senior sisters Ashley McDaniel (11.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and McKenzie McDaniel (7 ppg, 4.9 rpg) are 6-foot-1 and 5-foot-10, respectively, and Provenza called them smart, versatile players.
Provenza said, “Those three are their best players.”
He added, “The McDaniel sisters, if you play too close, they’ll curl off a screen and take midrange shots.”
The Impalas in general keep things simple. They run a motion offense and “live by the midrange shot,” Provenza said.
“It’s mostly basic basketball,” he added, “and sometimes that’s all it needs to be.”
Brandon, who leads an extremely balanced Grand Junction offense with 12.9 points per game, said she doesn’t know much about the Impalas, and that doesn’t worry her.
She said the Tigers have regained their confidence, especially after last Friday’s 53-49 victory over Monarch in the second round of the state playoffs.
“It’s all about confidence, and we have our confidence back,” Brandon said.
She said the Tigers also are excited to finally get to this juncture in the state playoffs after bowing out in the second round the previous two seasons.
Grand Junction is seeking a spot in the Great 8 now, and it would like to earn a measure of respect, too.
“It’s always fun being the underdog against the (Front Range) teams, because they think they’re going to kill you,” Brandon said. “It’s fun to prove them wrong.”
Provenza said his players ultimately will have to do one thing to win tonight.
“You’re in the Round of 16, so you better play like you’re in the Round of 16,” he said. “We have to play our game, and we have to play our best game.”
The winner of the Grand Junction-Poudre game advances to a Thursday quarterfinal at the Denver Coliseum against the winner of the game between No. 1-seed Cherry Creek (21-3) and fourth-seeded Rock Canyon (17-7).