With two minutes remaining and a healthy lead in a Saturday night, CIF-Southern Section Division 1 tournament game against Martin Luther King of Riverside, Canyon girls basketball coach Jessica Haayer called a timeout.
“I just sat them down and let them drink water,” she said. “…Everything was just very mellow and then their shoulders kind of dropped and stood a little bit taller and they walked out knowing that it was theirs.
“And I think that kind of just totally put them at ease to kind of win that basketball game.”
The Cowboys’ 53-44 home win over the Wolves (21-6) was a sigh of relief that almost didn’t come. A tumultuous third quarter that featured nearly a 10-point lead by King made Canyon frantic.
“We’re so used to controlling the pace of the game. That’s what we do,” said Talia Taufaasau. “And for a little while, we kind of let them control it and so that took us out of our offense.”
With the offense on edge, it was the defense that kept the Cowboys (26-4) grounded and got the tempo back into the home team’s hands.
As the third frame came to a close, Taufaasau made a basket to tie the game at 35-35, then Rachel Bowers followed with two points of her own to fully regain the lead.
Gabby Sanchez stepped up in the fourth quarter to rattle off six points.
“I think Gabby getting aggressive inside really changed the game,” said Haayer. “And I think that was the change in the game was gabby getting aggressive inside. They couldn’t guard her.”
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Bowers logged a double-double in the game with 18 points, 16 rebounds and seven blocks. Taufaasau scored 16 points to go with eight assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Selasi Mawugbe added five points and 10 rebounds while Sanchez chipped in six points, five rebounds and five assists. Brooke Mitchell scored six points.
Despite the third-quarter scare, Canyon appreciated the opportunity to be tested as the postseason heats up.
“We know how mentally strong we are as a ream now,” Taufaasau said. “We know we can come back from deficits like that. so to be able to experience this so late in the season, especially in the playoffs, that definitely helps us.”
Canyon will play Alemany in the Division 1 quarterfinals on Wednesday, Feb. 21.
Saugus 58, Whittier 32
The Centurions (21-7) are advancing to the CIF-SS Division 3A quarterfinals with the win over the Cardinals (18-11).
“They worked hard and they know that they have a goal in mind to get to the finals in our division and they’re doing everything they can to get there,” said coach Jason Conn.
Libbie McMahan led the team with 18 points. Monique Febles scored 12 and Eden MacKenzie chipped in eight. Maliah Sourgoose also added seven points.
“(She) hit some big shots late in the game,” Conn said of Sourgoose. “She brings a nice 3-point shot. She’s got a very quick release.”
Saugus will next play at Claremont on Wednesday at 7 p.m.