By the time Desert Vista reached the home locker room on Monday at Grand Canyon University the only thing that mattered is the Thunder remained unblemished.
They were challenged and nearly taken down by rival Mountain Pointe, but managed to stick together through their first real rough patch of the season before holding on for a 57-53 win over the Pride in the MLK Classic at GCU.
“We needed this to be honest,” Thunder coach J’ontar Coleman said. “We’ve had big leads and were never tested. We came through under the pressure of having to win the game late. They stayed calm and collected and pulled it together.”
After trailing 25-10 in the second quarter, the Pride (13-7) took a 35-34 lead on a 3-pointer by Maddy Sulka in the third quarter and last led 46-45, but the nationally-ranked Thunder (19-0) took control with the 3-ball and defense.
Junior Sabrina Haines hit a 3 pointer to take a 48-46 lead with 5 minutes and 15 seconds left and then after the team’s traded turnovers, Alexis Barfield hit another 3-pointer that was immediately followed by coast-to-coast layup by Emily Wolph after she got a steal.
“They hit a couple of big 3s and we didn’t make the plays we needed to down the stretch,” Pride coach Trevor Neider said. “All I wanted was one last shot at the end but it never came together.”
Sulka did everything she could to make it happen as the senior captain made four 3-pointers, grabbed three rebounds, had two steals and four assists to go with her 21 points.
“She played great and we tried following her lead,” said Tilasha Okey, who finished with nine points and four rebounds off the bench. “She did everything she could but we needed to give her more help.”
Early on it looked as if it was going to be another blowout by the Thunder, who won its previous 18 games by an average of 32.4 points.
The defense, led by Jahnae Martin out front, was creating havoc (MP has 12 first half turnovers), the shots were falling and appeared to be just cruising along to another crushing victory.
The Pride went on an 18-6 run to close out the first half and during that stretch Desert Vista found out a little about its makeup.
“It humbled us,” said Haines, who finished with 20 points on four 3-pointers and six rebounds. “When you have blowouts you don’t want to get cocky so when you have a close game it makes you really look at yourself and we came through.”
The Thunder, who have seven games remaining in the regular season, also had big games from Wolph despite foul trouble as she finished with 11 points on some key steals, while junior center Kristine Anigwe had seven points, nine rebounds, three blocks and four steals while keeping counterpart Kaylah Lupoe (2 points, 11 rebounds) quite on the offensive end.
“That’s probably two of the best centers in the state and they got a little rivalry thing going on,” Coleman said. “Kristine did a great job of never letting her get a good look.”
The Pride, who made 10 of 12 free throws, had a big game from Madyson Carlin off the bench as she poured in 13 on 5 of 6 shooting.
Mountain Pointe showed it can play with the Thunder as much losing never sits well it was a sign they’ll be ready should another meeting occur in February.
“We never got a shot to give ourselves a victory, but we battled,” Neider said. “We got rattled early and we fought back. Our confidence took over and we played well. It kept us believing and that’s important going forward.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.
Desert Vista 57, Mountain Pointe 53
MP 8 20 12 13 – 53
DV 19 12 11 15- 57
MP – Sulka 6-5-21, King 0-0-0, Lupoe 1-0-2, Greene 1-0-2, King 2-2-6, Okey 4-0-9, Gonzalez 0-0-0, Carlin 5-3-13, Cheatham 0-0-0. TOTALS 19-47 5-10 10-12.
DV – Martin 1-4-6, Wolph 4-3-11, Peyton 2-0-4, Haines 8-0-20, Anigwe 3-1-7, Brimley 1-0-2, Barfield 2-0-5, Davis 1-0-2, Joiner-Lister 0-0-0, Alexander 0-0-0. TOTALS 22-62 5-24 8-13.
Rebounds – MP 39 (Lupoe 11), DV 34 (Anigwe 9). Turnovers – MP 22, DV 14. Assists – MP 10 (Sulka 4), DV 11 (Brimley 3). Steals – MP 5, DV 13.