Clutch free throw shooting lifts Canyon girls basketball over Hart

Canyon senior Ellie Villavicencio brings the ball upcourt in a Foothill League matchup with Hart at Canyon High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Kiki Taufaasau took a deep breath and stared at the rim.

The Canyon guard stood at the free throw line with two minutes left in a tie game against Hart. She took two shots and made both.

“That kind of like, gets me to gather myself and I tell myself like, there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m missing this,” Taufaasau said. “Like I know like in practice I’m a good free throw shooter and so I think to myself right now, like I need this, it’s going in.”

A minute later, she made another free throw. Julia Fung made two of her own 30 seconds after that to seal the win for Canyon 40-36 at Canyon on Friday.

Hart kept things close throughout the night. Although the Cowboys were the first to score on a layup from Ellie Villavicencio, Emily Munoz scored four points to bring the score to 9-6 in Canyon’s favor by the end of the first quarter.

Canyon freshman Kiki Taufaasau tries to get around a Hart junior Emma Allen in a Foothill League matchup at Canyon High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Munoz, who ended the game with 12 points, continued her hot streak by opening the second quarter with a jumper to make it 9-8, then Emma Allen brought the score to 11-9 with 5:40 left in the frame with a 3-pointer.

“I thought Emma did a really nice job of making sure that the kids were calm and focused and dialed in,” said Hart coach Terra Palmer. “She has the flu … she went to school all day today even though she was fighting, throwing up, because she didn’t want to let the kids down and she came out and I thought she did a great job of just seeing them calm, which is what she’s done all year.”

Canyon re-gained control of the game with less than four minutes left in the first half as Villavicencio drove to the paint for two consecutive layups. Fung followed up with a steal and a layup to bring the score to 25-16 as the teams headed to the locker room.

Villavicencio and Fung switched on and off at point guard throughout the evening, opting to rest Fung for the most part due to minor injuries.

“I think it’s good that we’re able to have two players that are able to be point guards and like, work the 1 and bring the ball down,” Villavicencio, who had 10 points, said.

The Cowboys had the upper hand to start the third quarter, at one point gaining a six-point lead.

But Hart cut the deficit to 27-25 with a jumper from Trudy Larkins, then took the lead on a 3-pointer from Kaleigh Moss at 28-27. Taufaasau scored on a short jumper and Lucy Collins corralled an offensive rebound for another two points to regain the lead, but Allen drained a 3-pointer to put Hart ahead once again at 32-31 with 20 seconds left in the quarter.

With 20 seconds left Chidinma Okafor grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to give the Cowboys a narrow 33-32 lead going into the final quarter.

“We’ve been preaching when you rebound to get those elbows out and be strong with it and I really thought she made a conscious effort to do that tonight,” said Canyon coach Jessica Haayer. “You can see it in the last few minutes, she grabbed that ball, put it right to her chin, took a dribble, pivoted and those were big.”

The Indians began the fourth quarter by taking the lead once again, this time on a layup from Trudy Larkins. A minute later, Fung passed to Okafor to make it 35-34 with Canyon on top, but a Moss layup made it 36-35 for Hart.

Canyon senior Ellie Villavicencio tries to get around a Hart senior Emily Munoz in a Foothill League matchup at Canyon High School Friday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

However, it was the Cowboys’ free throw shooting from Taufaasau and Fung in the final minutes that put away the game.

Winning the game was particularly crucial to Canyon, which is tied with Saugus for second place in the Foothill League standings behind undefeated Valencia. A loss against Hart would have meant the potential loss of a playoff berth.

“I knew like, how badly do I want it,” Taufaasau, who finished with 11 points, said. “Like we win this, we go to playoffs, we lose, we don’t. It’s my freshman year. I want it to be memorable, so I think it was just like, me and my team just wanting it so much.”

Canyon will next host Saugus on Tuesday, while Hart will play at West Ranch.

Valencia 66, West Ranch 14

Mailey Ballard had 21 points for the Vikings (14-10, 8-0), followed by Skylar Ingram who had 13 points and eight rebounds.

Valencia next plays Golden Valley on Tuesday. West Ranch is 3-20 and 0-8.

Saugus 52, Golden Valley 28

Monique Febles led Saugus (22-5, 6-2) in scoring with 19 points. Maliah Sourgose and Eden Mackenzie each had five points and Maddie Seyforth recorded four blocks.

Golden Valley is 9-14 and 1-7.

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