The size and strength of the 6A Conference Tolleson Union Wolverines proved to be too much for the 4A Coconino Panthers as they found themselves on the wrong end of a late fourth-quarter comeback that ended 53-50 at Sinagua Middle School.
Not including the first three minutes of the game, Coconino did not trail until 5:31 was left in the fourth of Friday's Pepsi Holiday tournament winners bracket quarterfinal. Prior to that, the Panthers were able to absorb all sorts of pressure from the Tolleson big men as well as capitalize on mistakes with the fast break.
“We pushed it,” said Panthers head coach Mike Moran about his team’s first-half performance. “We got some good looks and we played good defense.”
At the start of the fourth, Coconino was ahead 39-34, despite being outscored 13-10 in the third.
“We got outrebounded,” Moran said. “They’re a huge team. We also turned the ball over too much. We didn’t execute some things, and we couldn’t play defense without fouling.”
And the Panthers went almost six minutes without a field goal in the final quarter.
“I think it was just good defense on their behalf,” Moran said. “Their length was making it very hard for us to move the ball around, so I give them credit for that.”
Senior Shemar Wilson led the Wolverines in scoring with 16 points. The 6-foot-8 center almost single-handedly outrebounded the entire Coconino team as well.
The deciding factor late came down to fouls and the strength and discipline of the Wolverines. Coconino had already put Tolleson in the bonus by committing seven fouls in the third quarter compared to just two by Tolleson.
The intentional fouling by the Panthers late sent the Wolverines to the foul line. Within the last minute, the Wolverines hit six of seven free throws -- which put the game nearly out of reach for the Panthers.
Sophomore Preston Olney led the scoring for the Panthers. The 5-foot-9 guard finished with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals.
The Panthers will now move on to the losers bracket, where they will play the Sunrise Mountain Miners from Las Vegas, the only out-of-state team in the tournament this year. The Miners are coming off a 70-52 loss to reigning 3A champion Winslow.
“We want to play fast without hurrying.” Moran said. “We want to come out, play good defense, and play with a lot of heart.”
That game between the Panthers and the Miners will tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Sinagua Middle School.
Justine Butterfield scored a game-high 17 points and dominated inside the paint against the Coconino Panthers, helping the Winslow Bulldogs advance to the semifinal round on the winners side of the Pepsi Holiday tournament on Friday at Sinagua Middle School.
The win sends the 3A Bulldogs into a Saturday contest against 4A St. Mary's. Tipoff for that game is set for 8 a.m. in the Sinagua main gym.
The 4A Panthers came out lethargic and faced a 26-9 deficit at halftime. Her team ahead 18-8 midway through the second quarter, Butterfield followed up a Winslow 12-4 run with block and two straight trips to the foul line that ended with her team ahead 20-8.
"They have to be ready and that's their only responsibility going up to the point when the game starts, and we were not ready to go today," Panthers head coach Martin Reyes said. "So I have to re-evaluate how we get ready to go for a game."
Senior guard Kenzie Palmer had a team-high seven points for the Panthers, who were outscored 18-4 in the second quarter, but responded in the second half. It was too late, however, as Coconino couldn't climb out of the hole despite winning the third 11-9 and falling short in the fourth, 15-12.
Oniah Barton-Paddock and Marilee David each had five points for the Panthers, who will play Arizona Lutheran at Northland Prep Academy on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
"We understand the season is a roller coaster full of ups and downs, and if we continue to find our way through that and make the ups and downs smaller, we will continue to grow the right way," Reyes said.
Kristin Wagner tallied nine points for the Bulldogs and Brianna Little contributed eight.
"We came out with better energy in the second half, but in the first half we couldn't seem to mesh. It's a bummer, but it's a tournament and that's why we do this. We will move on," Reyes said.
-- Mike Hartman,
Sun Sports Editor