After scoring 23 points in the first half, the Coconino Panthers picked up the pace and put up 26 in the third quarter alone to pull away from the Kingman Bulldogs and go on to win their Pepsi Holiday Tournament opener at Flagstaff High School, 64-31, Thursday.
Even with sitting out the fourth quarter, Jada Golding had a team-high 13 points for the 4A Conference Panthers, who went into halftime with a 23-16 advantage despite allowing the 3A Bulldogs to take their only lead of the night early in the second with 5:35 on the clock.
The second quarter opened with Coconino in a scoring drought, and Kingman went ahead 14-13. But a 9-0 run from the Panthers, during which Kenzie Palmer drained one of her two total 3-pointers, gave them a comfortable lead they would not relinquish.
"We came out in the first half just unfocused and not concentrating on the task at hand," said Panthers head coach Martin Reyes. " ... It's about the girls learning what it takes to be ready to play. We talked about it at halftime and then we talked about it after the game. We know they love to play the game, but you have to be ready to go because that's how you honor the game."
Palmer recorded 12 points, and Kortnee Begaye added nine, with five coming in the third quarter. While Coconino kept Kingman off the scoreboard for the first four minutes of the new half, Begaye went on a tear, dominating inside for baskets and blocking a shot for a turnover that would eventually become two points from Maya Tijerin off an assist from Golding.
The Panthers took control by cleaning up the turnovers that plagued them in the first half and coming down with more rebounds.
Golding was also a nice spark plug throughout the game, opening the game with a 3-pointer before adding four more points in the first quarter.
"Jada, this is the thing, she has showed up and been a great leader for us," Reyes said.
By the time Kingman finally put the ball through the net in the third quarter, just after Coconino's Marilee David completed a three-point play at the free-throw line, they faced a 45-18 deficit.
The fourth quarter resembled the prior frame, as the Panthers, who got nine in the final stanza from Palmer who took over as Golding sat, went on an 11-0 run to take a comfortable 60-26 lead.
Kaylee Begay put up six points and freshman Oniah Barton-Paddock contributed five. The score hit 56-26 in favor of Coconino when Palmer drove to the basket and finished with a field goal. Eleven different Panthers scored on the night, as Reyes was able to get his reserves some learning minutes.
The Panthers took third place at last year's tourney, topping the St. Mary's Knights 50-40.
Coconino picks back up their tournament run with a game Friday against the San Tan Foothills Sabercats, a 2A team. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. with Coconino's second game of the day coming in a rematch with St. Mary's at 8:30 p.m.