Flagstaff's upperclassmen have been finding motivation in the fact that this is their final year playing hoops as Eagles.
Monique Ware led all scorers with 17 points, Mikaila Kayaani-Lee added 13, and No. 1 Flagstaff put on a crosstown basketball clinic Tuesday night against the hosting sixth-ranked Coconino Panthers on the way to a 67-37 rivalry victory.
Ware and Kayaani-Lee, both seniors, each connected from 3-point range three times for the Eagles, who kept their perfect season intact in moving to 9-0 overall and 7-0 in the Grand Canyon Region standings. Coconino, on the other hand, totaled three long-range shots as a team.
“This is my senior year, this is my last game here at Coco, so I knew I had to step it up, basically," Ware said.
The Eagles, running on all cylinders and showing strength in all aspects of the game, took their first lead early on Kayaani-Lee's first 3 of the night and never looked back, taking a 16-9 advantage into the second quarter.
A 22-6 second quarter proved to be too much for Coconino to claw back from, despite the Panthers coming out of the halftime break to win the third 15-10. Coconino saw its eight-game winning streak come to an end as it moved to 8-2 overall and 3-1 in region.
“It’s so hard to get young athletes to understand that it’s just another basketball game," said Panthers head coach Martin Reyes. "There are probably 280 teams in the state of Arizona that wear green, so it’s trying to get them to understand that part.”
Following up her team's strong defensive effort that limited Coconino to just four points over the second quarter's first six minutes, Ware scored five straight courtesy of a long 3 and a steal that turned into a coast-to-coast layup. Flagstaff's Madison McCabe, one of six Flagstaff shooters to hit from beyond the arc, added to the 7-0 surge the Eagles took into halftime with an offensive rebound and basket.
Reece Honanie, also a Flagstaff senior, contributed nine points. She and Ware paced Flagstaff's potent transition game throughout the night. Ware broke up a pass near mid-court and Honanie turned it into two points after having to grab an offensive rebound, and the two broke out on Flagstaff's next possession to make it a 47-25 game with two minutes to play in the third quarter.
Jada Golding recorded a team-high nine points for the Panthers, who struggled at the free-throw line on 10-of-24 shooting. The senior hit a first-quarter buzzer-beating 3 and scored four straight during a Coconino 5-0 run that ended the third to cut the deficit to 48-30.
Ware started the early minutes of the game missing shots, but quickly turned her night around. She matched Coconino's opening-quarter point total by the time the clock expired, dominated the boards and found her teammates for strong looks.
“It shows her maturity. She knows that if she isn’t scoring, she has four other people who can score and can do other things to help us out," said Eagles coach Tyrone Johnson.
On an extra opportunity in the opening quarter, Ware found Kayaani-Lee open for a 3 to make it 10-6 in favor of Flagstaff.
“We knew we just had to have fun and do what Lady Eagles do,” Kayaani-Lee said.
Josephine Faull, who along with McCabe and Hailey Armus had five points, kept Flagstaff's energy high coming out of the break, chasing down a Coconino steal for a block before hitting a layup inside from an assist from Ware to make it 40-15 early in the third quarter. Flagstaff has now held seven of its nine opponents to fewer than 40 points.
"As a team, we have a lot of chemistry, so that helps us play together," Ware said. "But not only that, we push each other when we are on the court, we support each other."
Kaylee Begay notched seven points for Coconino, with Oniah Barton-Paddock and Taylor Hansen each adding six. Begay's 3-pointer stopped a three-minute scoring drought for Coconino to start the second quarter.
“This is the first of many Flag High games for my girls,” said Reyes, who in the two prior seasons took the first meeting between the schools.
The teams are set to meet again on Feb. 2.
After starting a three-game road stint with the win, Flagstaff will take on the Lee Williams Volunteers on Friday. Coconino hits the road after two straight home games to take on Bradshaw Mountain in Prescott Valley also on Friday.