Undefeated Junction girls finding identity

MONTROSE — It’s that traditional trust-building drill: You fall backward, I’ll catch you.

So went the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team’s defense Saturday. Sydni Brandon whipped from the top of the key into a passing lane, and if she did not get the steal, she trusted her teammates would jump to the unguarded ball handler.

A month ago, Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza wasn’t sure if the Tigers had found their identity. But after Grand Junction defeated Roosevelt 43-29 in the Black Canyon Basketball Classic at Montrose High School, the Tigers are 10-0.

That’s one identity — undefeated.

Another was detailed by Brandon, who scored a team-high 16 points.

“We’re a defensive team,” Brandon said, “a dominantly defensive team. Our offense can get in a flow, and we have good shooters and all that, but our defense definitely creates for us.”

Brandon had one such steal and layup in the fourth quarter, giving the Tigers a 40-19 lead.

Grand Junction played without starting post payer Shafer Rubalcaba, who rolled her right ankle Friday in the Tigers’ win over Alamosa.

Starting guard Bri Baldwin, a defensive specialist, played only one minute to rest an injured right wrist.

“I don’t want her to get reinjured,” Provenza said. “We’ve got to have her defense out there.”

Rubalcaba will have X-rays on Monday, Provenza said.

Until both get back, he will look to Brandon to develop her role as a go-to player. And the Tigers’ defense will to continue their blind trust.

“They believe in each other right now,” Provenza said. “That’s what I like. They’re learning to depend on each other, play that team defense. If something breaks down, they know someone’s got their back.”

Now Provenza wants consistency. In the first and third quarters, respectively, Grand Junction scored 14 and 18 points. But the Tigers produced two points in the second and nine in the fourth.

“We’ve got to get better every game,” Provenza said, “because we’re going to play better teams every game, starting next week.”

The Tigers host Class 4A’s third-ranked team, Pueblo West (6-0), Thursday at 7 p.m.

And Brandon, without Grand Junction’s graduated all-state point guard Jamie Derrieux running the floor, is getting a feel for when she should shoot and when she should pass, and for being the go-to girl.

“It’s going to take her a while,” Provenza said. “At times she’s got to take over at both ends of the floor. When she starts getting active on defense, that starts getting her active on offense.”

Even though Brandon, a sophomore, long has been a pass-first player, the Tigers’ low-post players encourage her to shoot.

“I definitely think she’s the most unselfish player on the team,” said Tigers center Sarah Wilkinson, who had five points. “She’s always looking for the open player. There are times when she should take it, but I know she knows when she should take it and when she should pass it.”


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