After a long weekend of basketball at the Pepsi Holiday Tournament, the Coconino girls basketball team was ready to get back to its regular season Monday night.
But as the Panthers made their way to midcourt for the tipoff against the Mohave Thunderbirds, they were missing starting point guard Jada Golding. After taking a hard hit to the head during Saturday’s third-place game, Golding was advised to take it easy for a few days.
“I’m still not one hundred percent right now,” Golding said. “I kind of feel bad right now, but I think we got this game.”
The game was certainly little problem, and the Panthers cruised to a 61-21 win over the Thunderbirds Monday night at Coconino High School.
With an aggressive backcourt defensive strategy and man-to-man coverage, the Panthers kept the Thunderbirds scoreless for the first two minutes of the game. Meanwhile, their offense capitalized on the drought, starting the game with a 6-0 run.
That tight defense remained throughout the game, and each quarter the Panthers left the Thunderbirds with only single-digit scoring.
During the final five minutes of the game, Panthers head coach Martin Reyes was pacing on the sidelines, yelling at his team to rush back on defense.
“Sprint is my favorite word to yell,” Reyes said. “I try to hold these girls to a high standard. It’s all about getting into habits.”
With Golding on the bench, the dynamics of the Panthers’ offense changed slightly, allowing for other players to step in and fill her role.
By the end of the first quarter, each starter had put points on the board, adding to the Panthers’ lead.
JJ Nakai, fresh from the Pepsi Tournament where she earned All-Tournament honors, scored 20 points. When Nakai wasn’t commanding the floor, she was dishing out assists to Kourtney Begaye. With 14 points and four rebounds, Begaye is showing herself to be an effective player on both the offensive and defensive end.
“[Begaye] is phenomenal this year,” Reyes said. “At the end of the second half, I told my girls we need to be more vocal on defense, and she stepped up and commanded that low-post presence.”
Begaye and Nakai combined for 10 points in the third quarter, pushing the Panthers to a double-digit lead.
“We’ve been playing together for about seven years,” Begaye said about her relationship with Nakai. “When you’ve been playing with someone for that long, you can play with your eyes closed.”
As the Panthers get ready for their Friday game in Prescott against the Badgers, Begaye knows what she and her team need to work on.
“[The Badgers] are a tall team,” she said, “so we’re really going to focus on boxing out and rebounding the ball.”