Canyon girls hoops comes to life late to beat Vista Murrieta

The Canyon High Girls basketball team celebrates their 53-45 win over Vista Murrieta at Canyon on Feb. 18. Dan Watson/The Signal

It’s hard to decide who or what initiated the second-half turnaround that propelled Canyon High girls basketball to a 53-45 home win against Vista Murrieta in the second round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA playoffs.

But it can be said for certain that the Cowboys did a 180.

“We realized the first three weren’t the way we wanted, so after the third quarter, we talked and we said we need to pick it up, we have eight minutes to either move on or go home,” said Canyon’s Rachel Bowers. “So we just picked it up.”

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Trailing the first two quarters, the Cowboys (19-9) looked sluggish. The Broncos defense clogged up every scoring avenue. Their offense had its way, too, with Keilanei Cooper scoring 12 points in the first half.

Coming out of halftime down 27-23, the third quarter was a spark for Canyon and the fourth quarter was a flame.

Selasi Mawugbe and Gabby Sanchez led defense efforts that limited Cooper to just three points in the second half.

“Obviously the first half she sort of did her thing,” said Canyon guard Talia Taufaasau of Cooper. “And we controlled the pace of the game for sure and stepped it up on our defense.”

Canyon’s Krystal Amato (11) shoots a free-throw against Vista Murrieta at Canyon on Saturday. Dan Watson/The signal

The offense woke up and opted to pass instead of dribble, creating both scoring and rebounding opportunities against a fading Vista Murrieta (19-7).

“Since they were clogging everything, everyone was in one spot all at once,” Bowers said. “So we just passed the ball quickly so they would have to clog other places. We just had good ball movement.”

But a good chunk of the Cowboys’ points came from free throws. The team made 14 of 16 from the line with Krystal Amato leading the way, making five of six free throws. Taufaasau also added four.

Taufaasau ended the night with 11 points. Rachel Bowers scored 16 and Amato scored seven.

“Before someone scored, pretty much everyone touched the ball,” Taufaasau said. “It was either someone getting it to us on defense, converting on a fast break, or a pass-pass layup, so we talked as a team and we came together as a team.”

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The game was the first Division 1AA playoff matchup for Canyon, which had a bye in the first round as a result of winning a coin flip with fellow co-Foothill League champion Valencia.

“I think they’re understanding that it’s not division 2AA or even lower. Those beginning games are usually kind of not-so-tough games and I’ve kind of prepped them where no game is easy,” said coach Jessica Haayer.

“They know that we have to bring it every single game. There’s no days off because it’s really one and done.”

The Cowboys next play Sonora High at home on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

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