What a steal

Strong 'D' lifts Tigers to victory

The Grand Junction High School girls basketball team’s Friday night game against Carbon County (Utah) began with Tiger guard Kylie Burns flying into a passing lane, stealing the ball and cruising for a wide-open layup.

Later in the first quarter, Sydni Brandon notched a couple of steals of her own.

The same scene played out again and again, even as Grand Junction struggled on offense, until Grand Junction held on to win 35-21 during Day 2 of the Wildcat Invitational at Fruita Monument High School.

“The defense is keeping us in games right now, and with a young team that’s what you want to have happen,” Tigers coach Sam Provenza said. “The offense is something we need to develop, develop those offensive skills. There’s a lot of athleticism with this group, and defensively that’s where it shows.”

Seven first-half steals and 12 forced turnovers kept the Tigers in the game while struggling on offense. Grand Junction had its lowest first-half point total of the season and made one 3-pointer in the half, also a season low.

It wasn’t until almost halfway through the third quarter that the Tigers’ offense picked up. Shafer Rubalcaba hit a pair of free throws, Brandon added a free throw, and back-to-back baskets from Madi Marsh and Elisha Jahnke allowed the Tigers to extend their lead to double digits.

“Basically all of our offense comes from our defense,” Brandon said. “We’re a quick team, and that helps us get going. When we get set up, our offense isn’t nearly as strong as it is on the fast break.

“We’re kind of playing without a purpose right now. We’re all kind of nervous to shoot the ball, and that means we’re just passing and passing, and eventually that leads to a turnover. We just need to get stronger with the ball.”

Although the Tigers didn’t pull away, Grand Junction limited Carbon County’s opportunities.

Brandon led Grand Junction with 11 points, four assists, and seven steals. Rubalcaba chipped in eight points, seven rebounds and a block.

“I think there are a lot of times we’re a little too unselfish,” Provenza said. “We’re looking for the next good pass instead of taking the best shot. So, I think it’s something a younger team just has to work through, trying to figure out who the go-to kid is.”

The Tigers are undefeated, but they have a long nonleague schedule before entering Southwestern League play. Provenza said tough, low-scoring, nonleague games lead to successful league tilts.

“It’s so good that we’re having physical games this early in the season,” he said. “It’s exactly like this in the Southwestern League, and while we still have things to work on, it’s games like this that prepare you for the rest of the season.”

Chaparral 70, Air Academy 24: Chaparral scored more points in the first quarter, 27, than Air Academy did in four quarters. Katrina Bacovcin had 16 points, and Kyleigh Rees chipped in 13 points with three 3-pointers.


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