The Canyon del Oro girls basketball team stared down the blinding lights of McKale Center Monday morning and went toe-to-toe with one of the city’s best programs.
The Dorados (8-13) duked it out against the Tanque Verde Hawks (17-5) in a matinee session of the Martin Luther King Basketball Classic, held at the University of Arizona’s McKale Center, before sputtering down the stretch, allowing the Hawks to hang on for a 46-40 victory.
Canyon del Oro launched a whirlwind comeback attempt in the game’s final quarter, with senior Tianna Carter scoring 8 points in succession to pull the team within four of the Hawks with less than five minutes to play.
Carter, who finished with a team-high 22 points, hit both of her three-point attempts in the final quarter before fouling out on a loose-ball penalty midway through the quarter.
The Dorados kept fighting without their senior captain, closing within four of the Hawks multiple times down the stretch.
Longtime Dorados coach Kent Senzee praised his player’s work ethic, calling his side’s drive a never-say-die mentality that shined in McKale.
“It's an honor for us,” he said, referencing CDO’s spot in the classic. “This is the third time that I as a coach have been able to do it. It's a great event. They really class it up nice. It honors a great man, and it's just an honor to be invited.”
Senzee hopes his players savored their time on the hardwood at McKale, calling the experience a dream come true for players.
“It’s a chance of a lifetime to play here,” Senzee said. “I’m glad they were able to do that.”
Carter, who scored 14 of her points in the game’s latter half, said playing in the classic was something she’ll never forget.
The University of Nevada-Las Vegas commit is hopeful that younger members of the team will take the opportunity in-stride, learning what went wrong and building on it in the years to come.
“I hope that they’ll learn from our work ethic, because me and Tessa [Falcone] hustle every game,” Carter said. “So, I’d hope they’ll take that and carry it on into future seasons.”
Falcone, who finished Monday’s game with 7 points, said she had to fight through nerves early on against the Hawks, playing at McKale for the first time.
“It's a very big moment in our career,” Falcone said. “It means a lot to me to play here because I'm never going to do it again. So, I'm very grateful for this opportunity.”
Both Carter and Falcone said the highlight of the day revolved around taking the floor with their teammates, with the regular season fast approaching its end.
Both know that the Dorados’ playoff chances are slim, but have found a way to savor the little moments nonetheless.
Senzee described the game’s fourth quarter, in which the Dorados tied the Hawks, 17-17, as a sign of his team’s fight.
The veteran coach argued that finding silver linings in such a game is rather easy, given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play inside a major college basketball venue, in front of friends and family.
“In the fourth quarter, we came back strong,” he said. “I love the fight in our girls, and I'm proud of them.”