Games like the one on Tuesday, Jan. 21 demonstrate exactly why the Clovis West Golden Eagles girls basketball team are seven-time defending Valley champions.
After an uncharacteristically slow start, the Golden Eagles used pressure defense and timely shooting from distance to dig themselves out of a hole and notch a 61-56 road victory over the Buchanan Bears to extend their winning streak to eight.
Of course, to dig out of a whole, you first must fall into one, and the Bears were the ones that put them there.
Buchanan came out playing as if its proverbial hair on fire, causing deflections on defense which it converted into easy baskets at the rim and open three-pointers. All told, the Bears forced seven turnovers in the first quarter alone.
Senior guard Morgan Mathis showed her marksman-like range by nailing two three-pointers in the first quarter along with another from senior forward Sara Snider, culminating in a 19-5 lead after the first quarter.
Clovis West, a team that normally thrives on its distance shooting, made just three in the first half and trailed 31-19 at halftime.
Now in an unfamiliar position, the Golden Eagles knew that they had to get back to what made them such a hard team to beat, playing hard defense and forcing turnovers to score in transition.
“We got totally away from the team we have been,” coach Craig Campbell said. “The whole halftime talk was about getting back to we have been.”
And coach got exactly what he wanted and then some.
A completely reenergized and focused Golden Eagles showed in the third quarter that the second half would be a different story.
Suddenly, Clovis West was the team forcing turnovers and bad shots. And the shots that weren’t falling in the first half were suddenly finding the bottom of the net.
The dynamic tandem of Alyssa Kuniyoshi and Kendall Jackson combined for 15 of the team’s 23 third quarter points, all of them of shots from behind the line.
The defense stifled the Bears, holding them to just nine points in the third, and none from Mathis, who had been the hot hand in the first half.
It all set up a fourth quarter that any fan of high school basketball would have wanted: two of the top three teams in the TRAC going at it with eight minutes left in the game and everything to be decided.
With Clovis West up 42-40, junior shooting guard Nikki Tom took over the game offensively.
Tom was unconscious from the field, scoring 10 of her 15 points in the period.
Still, the game was tied at 56 with 1:30 left to play.
But Aaliyah Seuell wasn’t ready for the Golden Eagles’ win streak to end. The senior guard nailed a clutch three with 45 seconds left and Jackson drew a charging foul, forcing the Bears to have to foul on its ensuing defensive possession to extend the game out as long as they could.
Fortunately for Clovis West, there are good free throw shooters on the team. Tom coolly walked to the line to put the nail in the coffin by sinking the clutch shots.
The win puts another game of distance between Clovis West and third place Buchanan. The Golden Eagles sit atop the TRAC with a 19-4 record while the Bears reside in third place, still with a healthy 15-7 mark, trailing second place Clovis by two games in the league standings and overall.
Both teams will get back on the court Friday when Clovis West hosts the Clovis Cougars while the Bears hit the road to take on the fourth place Clovis North Broncos.