Sonora did enough damage in the first half to win 50-40 despite making just two field goals over the final two quarters of Friday’s Valley Oak League matchup at Sierra.
It was a tale of two halves, as the Wildcats (3-1, 9-5 overall) blitzed Sierra out the gate with their bothersome press defense that forced 19 turnovers and helped build a 39-17 halftime lead.
The difference for the Timberwolves (2-2, 10-7) in the second half?
“We just played basketball,” Sierra coach Martha Spivey said.
Sierra tightened up defensively, used its superior size to dominate the boards, took much better care of the ball (eight turnovers) and outscored the visitors 22-11 in the second half.
The Wildcats were held to just two points on free throws in the third period and didn’t convert from the field until Bailey Henington intercepted a pass on Sierra’s end of the court and scored with a quick layup with 2:33 left in the game. That made it 46-32 and was the backbreaker for Sierra.
Hennington was the player of the game, finishing with 13 points, eight rebounds and seven steals. Michelle Reis scored 10 of her 12 points from the free-throw line and also grabbed nine boards.
“They came out at us full force defensively and it kind of stunned us for a minute,” Sonora coach Amy Santos said. “We had a hard time coming down and getting into our offense, but luckily our defense was able to keep us (ahead). Credit to Sierra, they did a good job coming out of the half.”
The poor first-half effort was too much for the Timberwolves to overcome. They had 11 giveaways in the first quarter alone, and an 11-0 run had Sonora ahead 17-4 with still 2:40 to go.
The Wildcats took a 19-8 lead into the second and continued to lay it on Sierra. Their halftime cushion was the largest of the contest.
“Going into the game we knew that we had to limit their transition points because they’re a quick team and we did that,” Spivey said. “But then we forgot about our half-court defense. I think that our half-court defense is our strong point. Tonight, we weren’t in the right places in the first half and that was the difference.
“Offensively we’re either on or we’re not, but defensively we have to be on every single night and be consistent.”
Sonora had nearly every shot contested in the second half. Meanwhile, Sierra scored the first eight points of the third quarter all off put-back layups.
While Sonora made good use of its guard depth in the perimeter and the open court, Sierra was able to control the paint. Sonora had no answer for 6-foot-2 center Allie Walljasper, who had 10 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to pace the Timberwolves. Kristen Maestretti added seven points11 rebounds and five blocks, and Tiffany Harris netted six points and six boards all in the second half.
Getting shots to fall continued to be a problem for Sierra, which hit only one 3-pointer, missed many open looks from short range and made 9 of 20 free throws.
“We adjusted better to their press in the second half, but we’ve had a hard time all year kind of finding our rhythm with our shots,” Spivey said. “It’s something we work on every day in practice. We spend a good chunk of practice every day working on free throws because our (missed) free throws hurt us.
“If it’s a five-point game you coach differently than you would a 10-point game and it gives us a better chance. A couple more free throws could have made a difference.”
Sonora 56, Sierra 41
What was a two-point game to start the fourth ended up as a rout, as the visiting Wildcats closed it out with a 18-5 run.
Trayana Davis paced Sierra (2-2, 12-6) with 26 points, six steals and five rebounds. Cecilia Salcedo pulled down 16 rebounds to go with eight steals and three blocks.