Mountain Pointe lost its touch, but not its ability to feel.
The Pride girls basketball team walked off the court at Gila River Arena dejected after losing 35-30 to Valley Vista on Thursday afternoon in the 6A Conference semifinals simply because of the most elementary aspect of the game.
Mountain Pointe had trouble shooting all game, including two wide-open three-pointers in the final minutes that could have tied the game against the third-seeded Monsoon, and yet found itself with a chance in the fourth quarter.
“During the season, we had some ups and downs too, but nothing like this,” Pride coach Justin Hager said. “We couldn’t miss against Hamilton (in the quarterfinals). And then we struggled here. That’s why you play the games.”
The 10th-seeded Pride was a decent shooting team all year long in going 23-10, averaging 52.3 points a game. But on this day in this big arena, it appeared as if there was plastic wrap over the cylinder.
Mountain Pointe was 1 for 15 in the first quarter, and 3 for 25 in the half. It got better in the second half, but not much. Mountain Pointe was 7 of 31 in the second half to finish 10 for 56 (17.9 percent) for the game.
Valley Vista, which made its first state title game, wasn’t much better as the Monsoon finished 13 of 40 from the floor and scored just four points in the third quarter
“It was like watching two teams trying to stall, but nobody was doing that,” said Hager, who said he didn’t talk to the team about playing in a big arena leading up to the game. “It was unbelievable. We had some shots. It was a battle of possessions.
“We had four or five straight possessions where would could have tied or taken the lead and didn’t score. That was huge.”
Clemson recruit Jenise Strover had several open looks as Valley Vista’s center Kiara Edwards played off of her because of four fouls, but the ball rarely found net. She finished 5 of 24 from the field for a team-high 13 points and 11 rebounds.
“It was frustrating,” said Strover, who is headed to Clemson. “I don’t know. It just wouldn’t go in.”
At the end of the game down 31-28, the Pride’s top 3-point shooter, Bailey Osmer and Eve Kulovitz, both had open looks from beyond the arc but to no avail.
“That’s who we want taking those shots,” Hager said. “It just wasn’t our night.”
Valley Vista was able to ice it down the stretch on a basket by Rysha Banner after the missed three-pointers and two free throws by Taylor Chavez, who finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
The Pride was playing in their first semifinal since winning state in 2002 and showed a resiliency that allowed them to come back just like they did in the first round, when they shocked No. 7 Xavier after trailing by 14.
“We’re a team of fighters,” Strover said. “We don’t accept losing. We always keep fighting.”
It’s a season Hager hopes to build off of as Mountain Pointe loses three seniors in Osmer, who scored five points on 1 of 17 shooting, Strover and Kayla Smith, who fouled out.
“Hopefully, they understand there is a new standard that we need to live by,” Hager said. “We relied heavily on our seniors, but the players coming back were a big part of this season.”
– Contact writer Jason Skoda 480-898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.