TEMPE - The only team in the state that can accurarely simulate in practice the hellish style St. Mary's brings to a girls basketball games is St. Mary's.
The Knights have a rotation that brings a wave of talent regardless of what lineup coach Curtis Ekmark runs out there or substitutions he makes. They play with an attitude that leaves very few passes by the opposition uncontested and take 3-pointers with the hesitation of paid assassin.
Desert Vista saw it firsthand Monday afternoon and ended the Division I state quarterfinal game with more turnovers than points.
Not a easy statistic to pull off, but that's what (unofficially) occurred as No. 3 St. Mary's beat No. 6 Desert Vista 77-39 at Arizona State's Wells Fargo Arena.
"I don't know what it is like to play us but it can't be easy," sophomore guard Dominique Williams said. "No one sees what we do at practice, but it is harder than the games. We are competitive and no one likes to lose a possession. We pride ourselves and playing hard every possession."
It was evident early against the Thunder (25-7) as the Knights seemingly got their hand on just about every pass Desert Vista attempted in the early going.
It led to a slew of turnovers - and a lead of 15-6 when St. Mary's Courtney Ekmark made a 3-pointer and an old-fashioned three-point play after scoring while being fouled.
Desert Vista had five turnovers in the first quarter under its own baskets as the Knights either stole the ball outright or the Thunder player threw it away in attempt to avoid a hard-charging defender or squeeze it into a well-covered teammate.
"It was nervous energy," Desert Vista coach Rachel Proudfoot said. "We didn't handle it well. It was probably a combination of playing against the defending state champs and the bigger arena. I don't want to take anything away from St. Mary's but we are not 40 points worse than that team. It's unfortunate that we didn't show it."
There were no official statistics kept for the game, but one courtside reporter had the Thunder with 42 turnovers. Unofficial or not, it is close enough to tell the story of the game.
Twin sisters Danielle (10 points, eight steals) and Dominique Williams (3 points, 7 steals) were at the heart of forcing the Thunder into tough decisions that led to easy looks at the basket for the Knights (28-0) and if it wasn't for an off night shooting - St. Mary's was 15 for 35 from the field at the half - the score would have gotten out of hand early.
After making its first two 3-pointers, St. Mary's missed six in a row in addition to missing several layups when taking possession after a miscue by the Thunder.
"We struggled a bit offensively early but our defense keeps us in games," Ekmark said. "It was just a matter of time before we made some shots."
Once the offensive flow started matching the one St. Mary's defense had from the start, the Thunder couldn't do much other than play hard the rest of the way in an attempt to keep it respectable.
St. Mary's led 17-10 after one quarter, but pushed it to 42-20 at the half when Ekmark (21 points, 4 rebounds and three steals) found her rhythm only to be outdone in the second half by Shilpa Tummala, who scored 14 of her 24 in the second half.
"Coach just told me to be patient and it would come," said Tummala, who had four rebounds and three steals. "The team did a good job of getting me the ball when I scored a few in a row."
The Knights advance to Thursday's semifinals to take Dobson at Jobing.com Arena.
The Thunder has to regroup, knowing they have quality talent coming back, after playing poorly against a nationally-ranked opponent. While the outcome wasn't what they wanted, they knew it was going to be tough heading into it.
"Frustration settles in a little bit but you can't let it change the way play," said sophomore point guard Emily Wolph. "It's a(n) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it. We had to be at our best and we didn't play at that level."
Proudfoot's first class of seniors who she coached all four years walkway from the team disappointed, but satisfied in knowing they helped get the program back to a high level.
"They're my babies," Proudfoot said. "They helped shaped this program to what it is today."
Senior forward Jaymee Brugman finished with a team-high 18 points and eight rebounds, while Wolph had 10 points.
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