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Lady Tigers lose to Valley Vista in finale
Submitted by Casey Pritchard on Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:00am
4th quarter struggles haunt Millennium in 6-point loss
The Millennium girls basketball team’s regular-season finale provided the perfect test heading into the state tournament. Through three quarters, it looked like the Lady Tigers would pass with flying colors. Unfortunately, a fourth-quarter breakdown doomed them in a 49-43 loss Feb. 7 to Surprise Valley Vista.
“I think for three quarters and two minutes, we controlled the tempo,” Millennium coach Cory Rojeck said. “They started pressing, trapping a little bit, and at the end of the day, we didn’t execute the way we needed to in the fourth quarter. The thing to pull from it is it’s a learning experience for a young team.”
The first half was tight throughout, and both teams led. Valley Vista’s biggest advantage was three points, while Millennium’s was six.
The Lady Tigers held a 23-19 lead at intermission, but Valley Vista scored the first four points of the second half, tying the game and prompting Rojeck to call a timeout. The quick meeting with his team worked, as Millennium went on a 12-0 run over the next two-and-a-half minutes, making it 35-23.
“What’s funny is what I [told the girls] was the same thing we were trying to tell them in the fourth quarter, which was break the press, get the ball on the side, make layups, calm down,” Rojeck said. “We did it during that third-quarter stretch once they tied it up, but we didn’t do it during that fourth-quarter stretch.”
During the 12-0 run, Ali Zelaya and Dominique Phillips each had four points. Both of Phillips’ baskets came on layups in transition.
After the 12-0 run, Millennium only scored eight points the rest of the game. Valley Vista went on a 10-4 run to end the third quarter, closing the gap to 39-33. Clarissa Rodarte was huge during that stretch, making a pair of 3-pointers and two free throws.
In the fourth quarter, Valley Vista applied a full-court press, which forced Millennium into turnovers that led to easy baskets for the Monsoon the other way. When the Lady Tigers did break the press, they were taking short jump shots instead of driving the ball to the hoop.
“Once we start to break it, we had a lot of two on ones — we had two on ones, but we’re settling for jumpers,” Rojeck said. “Two on ones need to result in layups or free throws.”
Millennium scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, a Zeleya 16-foot jumper, but the Lady Monsoon scored the next 10 points, taking a 43-41 lead. It was their first advantage since 4-3 in the opening minutes.
The Lady Tigers tied the game on a Phillips put-back basket with 3:33 remaining, but Valley Vista scored the final six points of the quarter to steal the victory.
“We didn’t execute like we should have at the end of the game,” Rojeck said. “We’ll go back and watch it on film. For three quarters, it was great basketball. We’ll watch the fourth quarter and see what went wrong.”
Phillips led the way for Millennium, scoring 18 points. Zelaya added 12.
Despite the loss, Rojeck said he doesn’t think it will affect his team negatively heading into the playoffs.
If anything, he thinks it will help the team refocus, he said.
“I told the girls before we shook hands, this doesn’t change anything in terms of what we want to do in the state playoffs, and that’s where this was a great experience for us, this was a playoff atmosphere,” Rojeck said. “We essentially got a free playoff game. Darn it, we wanted to win it, but this atmosphere — we played in the state championship two years ago — this atmosphere here was even bigger. It’s close, it’s loud.”
The irony of the Valley Vista loss and the state championship appearance two years ago is that the Lady Tigers lost the final game of the regular season during their 2015 run to the title game. That year, it was a 49-42 loss to Chandler Hamilton on the last day of the regular season.
“Two years ago, the year we went to the state championship, we lost our last game before the state playoffs,” Rojeck said. “That’s what I’m going to tell the girls downstairs, is the team that went to a state championship, we lost a game right before the playoffs started. What it does, it helps you to refocus. Our last regular season loss was Dec. 6 against Hamilton, and now it’s Feb. 7. I think it’s time to refocus and be better in the fourth quarter.”
Millennium’s state tournament run began Tuesday when it hosted Scottsdale Desert Mountain. The result was unavailable at press time. If the fourth-seeded Lady Tigers won, they would host the winner of No. 5 Tucson and No. 12 Gilbert Perry at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Casey Pritchard can be reached at email@example.com
or on Twitter @CaseyonSports.
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