Marana has struggled all season to find a go-to-scorer to replace superstar Jamee Swan, who graduated in 2012, going on to Colorado University.
“It’s hard adjusting to not having her,” said Tigers first-year coach Sarah Peterson-Whaley.
At Pusch Ridge on Dec. 11, Shalise Borden stepped up and scored nine points in the first half for Marana (6-13).
But when Borden left with her third foul late in the second period, any semblance of offense left with her, as the well-balanced Pusch Ridge Lions (12-7) took advantage and rolled to a 44-27 win, holding the Tigers to eight points in the second half.
Gabrielle Courtney scored 14 points to lead the Lions, while Noelle Soltero added 13 on 5-11 shooting from the floor. The tough and physical Soltero frequently found herself hitting the gym floor, as she provided the perfect complement to the guard play of Courtney.
“We help each other,” Soltero said. “We’re still learning our strengths as a team.”
After a close first period, the Lions went on a 10-0 run to take a 17-11 lead in the second. Borden went strong to the basket for two, was fouled, and knocked in a free throw to end the drought.
Unfortunately, for the Tigers, Borden left with her third personal foul at the 1:33 mark of the second with the deficit at 22-18.
Borden sat out most of the third and came back in and fouled out in the fourth with nine points on 4-6 shooting.
Marana’s 15 turnovers in the first half, and 25 in the game, disrupted any offensive rhythm and flow.
“I think we beat ourselves a lot,” said Peterson-Whaley.
Defense is always the identity of Lonnie Tvrdy’s Pusch Ridge squad.
“I thought our advantage would be pressure on the ball,” Tvrdy said. “They don’t have a true point guard.”
The Lions gained confidence winning a couple of playoff games and winning several games against Division II foes Ironwood Ridge and Canyon del Oro last year.
“Offensively, a good defense creates a good offense,” Soltero said. “We know we can compete.”
Pusch Ridge struggled to find the basket in the third, making just three of their 16 field goal attempts. But they got just enough offense on late buckets by Soltero, and a buzzer-beater by Courtney (her only field goal of the quarter) for a 36-21 lead.
“Our offense is tentative at times,” Tvrdy said. “We’re inconsistent. We’re struggling with people knowing where they need to go on each press. My goal is to find open, uncontested shots.”
Moriah Roters and Olivia Christian rounded out the balanced scoring for Pusch Ridge with six points each.
The Lions challenge has been trying to replace departed point guard Abby Maas.
“In practice we need to learn what’s happening,” Tvrdy said. “We need to be in the moment.”
For the young Tigers, it’s a matter of gaining experience and learning to play together.
“We have six sophomores,” Peterson-Whaley said. “For two-and-a-half quarters, we played with them. (Borden’s) foul trouble was disappointing. (Backup) Anais Gibbs did a great job defensively.”
Gibbs is also averaging over five rebounds a game.
“They’ve done a good job,” Peterson-Whaley said. “It bodes well for the future.”
This week, the Lady Lions will host Catalina Foothills on Friday, while the Lady Tigers will face Canyon Del Oro on Thursday night, followed by another tough game against Ironwood Ridge on Friday.