Mesa Mountain View girls basketball coach Henry Bribiescas has learned after nine seasons piloting the program never to take a game with rival Red Mountain for granted. The Lady Toros and Lady Lions have hooked up in some real dillies over the years.
Bribiescas breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday night as 11th seed Mountain View turned back No. 22 Red Mountain in the final four minutes for a 52-38 triumph in the first round of the Division I state tournament at Toro Gym.
Mountain View (21-10) moves on to the second round on Friday (Feb. 21) where it travels to No. 6 Westview for a 7 p.m. contest. Armani Hawkins led Mountain View with 14 points and made three baskets -- two early ones -- in the final period that helped give her team some breathing room. Cherokee Davis and Tennille Heywood added 12 points apiece for the Lady Toros. Red Mountain's season ended with a 12-14 record, but the Lady Lions didn't go quietly.
"This is what a Mountain View-Red Mountain game is like," Bribiescas said. "They came out holding nothing back and made us play faster than we wanted to. Even with the lead we had at halftime (22-13), they came right back at us in the third quarter."
Mountain View had reason to be wary of Red Mountain. Red Mountain beat Mountain View back on Dec. 6, 45-43. The Lady Toros played without two of their top three scorers that night -- Hawkins and Christine Miller. The pair was available this time, but it wasn't the walk in the park some may have believed.
Red Mountain trailed 27-14 in the first two minutes of the third period, but whittled away with strong rebounding and the inside presence of Monika Kucerkova and Payden Fulton. Add the overall hustle of senior Alyssa Alvarado and that trio combined for 12 of Red Mountain's 17 points in the quarter that cut the deficit to 33-30 with a quarter to play. Each of the three hit the boards for a putback.
Red Mountain, which got 22 points from Kucerkova when the teams met in December, didn't have Kucerkova much in the first half as she picked up two quick fouls in the opening three minutes and went to the bench. Kuecrkova played the final two minutes of the first half, but wasn't effecitive on the offensive end until the second half. She scored 8 of her 10 points in the second half. Teammates Seneca Richards and Alvarado chipped in with nine points each for Red Mountain. Richards, the Lady Lions' top perimeter threat, made 3 3s. With both Richards and Kucerkova on the floor, Mountain View's defense had to be on its toes.
"They are tough to defend with that duo," Bribiescas said. "We were able to concentrate on Richards more the first half. But when their big girl came back we had to be leary of both. It was nice at the end to have a three-possession lead. and not one. We led most of the first game we played them, but they snuck by us in the end because we couldn't extend the lead."
Kucerkova's final points kept Red Mountain within 37-34 with just under six minutes left. A 12-0 run over the next four minutes was the tipping point. Mountain View slowed the pace over the final four-plus minutes, forcing Red Mountain to foul and gradually increasing its lead.
"We've played like that a lot this year," Red Mountain coach Martin Appel said. "When we do get close its a matter of making plays. Sometimes we make them and sometimes we don't. We had some bright spots with our sophomore post (Fulton) and the way Alyssa (Alvarado) has played all year. It hurt having (Kucerkova) in foul trouble early."
Mountain View gets a day of practice before it meets Westview (23-6) for the second time. The teams met in late November in Highland's Thanksgiving Invitational with Westiew winning, 38-36, with a fourth-quarter rally.