Canyon girls basketball picks up third league win, Saugus and Valencia roll

Canyon's Chidinma Okafor(13) drives past Hart defenders Kaleigh Moss (14) and Evelin Herrera (20) and goes in to score at Hart High School on Tuesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Chidinma Okafor is a player of few words, but she couldn’t have been more accurate in her description of Canyon girls basketball’s return to Foothill League play against Hart on Tuesday.

“The intensity was nice,” she said.

The Cowboys and the Indians constantly one-upped each other throughout the game, but Canyon prevailed with a 54-43 win at Hart.

Kiki Taufaasau scored the first points of the game, draining a 3-pointer to give Canyon a 3-0 at the eight-minute mark. A minute later, Hart’s Emily Munoz intercepted a pass from Okafor and took it across the court for a layup.

The back-and-forth action continued as the Indians took a brief lead, but the Cowboys (11-10 overall, 3-0 in Foothill League) tied the game at 7-7 when Lucy Collins grabbed an offensive rebound for a layup. Canyon never looked back and began moving the ball more fluidly as coach Jessica Haayer instructed her players to stop dribbling from the sideline.

“I don’t want to say stop dribbling it, it’s dribbling with purpose,” Haayer said. “We talk about dribbling at the rim, going somewhere.”

With 1:45 left in the first quarter, Julia Fung passed to Okafor, who put Canyon up 11-9 with a layup. Less than a minute later, Fung, who later encountered foul trouble, got the ball to Riley LaPlant, who capped the first-quarter scoring with a layup of her own.

“Julia is a really smart point guard and getting in foul trouble is really tough but we were able to adjust and continue to move the ball,” Okafor said.

The Indians (2-14, 1-2) edged closer to a lead in the second quarter as Rachel Martinez stole the ball from Ellie Villavicencio and gave it to Emma Allen, who scored two to close the gap to 16-12. Kaleigh Moss sank two free throws to bring it to 16-12, but that’s the closest the Indians would get to a lead.

Canyon settled in for the second half, focusing on trapping Hart and keeping an eye out for open balls.

“We have a really good defense,” Villavicencio said. “We started to go at them a little bit when they came out with their good defense but we just like, when we’re able to pressure, we’re able to get them to turn the ball over which helps us out and get the ball and be able to score in transition.”

Shots began falling in the second half for Villavicencio, too. After Allen made a 3-pointer, Villavicencio scored two points for Canyon with 4:30 left in the third quarter, then made a layup to make it 32-22 in the Cowboys’ favor.

“I knew I wasn’t doing too good in the first half and I wanted to change it and show what I could do so I tried to go off as best as I could on defense and offense,” she said.

The senior’s scoring burst helped her to finish the game with 14 points. Okafor scored 14 as well, while Moss led the Indians with 10 points, followed by Allen and Munoz, who both finished with nine.

Canyon next plays at Saugus on Friday, while Hart hosts West Ranch. Tipoff for both games is 5 p.m.

Saugus 61, Golden Valley 37

Libbie McMahan led the Centurions (18-2, 2-1) with 18 points, while Monique Febles chipped in 12. Maliah Sourgose had eight points and Eden MacKenzie had seven points.

Golden Valley next hosts Valencia on Friday at 5 p.m.

Valencia 71, Golden Valley 12

Mailey Ballard scored 19 points for the Vikings (8-8, 3-0), followed by Audrey Fields with 15 points in addition to three steals. Skylar Ingram added 10 points.

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