Canyon girls hoops faces a battle of the mind in Anaheim

Canyon's Daisy Cardenas (10) drives agains Saugus defender Carly Roberts (22) at Saugus. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Canyon High girls basketball is focused on one opponent at today’s CIF-Southern Section Division 1AA Finals game: themselves.

The Cowboys may play Foothill League rival and co-league champion Valencia, but the primary focus is earning redemption from last year’s finals appearance.

“I don’t think we put it all on the court last year,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer. “And I think they were disappointed in their play last year and look back now like, go­d we played awful.

“That’s really our focus. It’s not about Valencia, it’s not about ‘woohoo we’re at the championship,’ it’s about being better than what we were the year before.”

MORE: Alaina Garcia takes pressure off Canyon girls hoops on and off the court

Last year, the team fell 47-33 to Newbury Park after charging through the playoffs, beating each opponent by nine points or more.

“We’ve been here, but last time we kind of choked,” said senior Alaina Garcia. “We’re just hungry for a ring.”

Regarding their offense, the Cowboys want to take advantage of every open shot. Juniors Talia Taufaasau and Rachel Bowers have been leaders in that category with 11.3 points per game and 13.2 points per game, respectively.

Garcia, who had a double-double in the team’s most recent game against St. Anthony, can take the pressure off of Taufaasau and Bowers to provide an extra boost in scoring.

Defensively, the Cowboys want to communicate, since Valencia’s attack is mobile and quick.

Of course, limiting Kayla Konrad is an objective. The senior has scored over 20 points in each playoff game this season.

“She’s obviously really good,” Taufaasau said. “I wouldn’t say she’s our main focus but I feel like without her, they wouldn’t function as well. She’s definitely their leader in scoring and their vocal leader.”

MORE: Mason Nesbitt: Canyon-Valencia was matchup we all wanted

Haayer gave the goal of limiting Konrad to 15 points in today’s game. Gabby Sanchez, who limited Konrad to 17 points the last time the two teams met, and Selasi Mawugbe have been defensive workhorses this season and will continue their roles against the Vikings.

Canyon is a bit more comfortable playing a team it is familiar with, especially because it won the last contest 64-48. But of course, the Cowboys aren’t completely letting their guards down.

“You never know,” Haayer said. “People have tricks up their sleeve. You don’t now, they could run something totally different. Whether they execute it as well as everything else, I don’t know.”

The Cowboys take on Valencia at 1 p.m. at the Honda Center.

“We’ve played hard teams, but we’ve come up short in the preseason and regular season (against the Vikings) and we don’t want to be compared to Valencia,” said Garcia.

“We think we’re the better team. We just want to come out on top.”

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