Golden Valley girls hoops slides past Kennedy

Golden Valley's Imani McGee (15) shoots against Kennedy defenders at GV on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Golden Valley girl’s basketball improved its record after a convincing 44-28 win over the John F. Kennedy Cougars Thursday night at Golden Valley High School. The Grizzlies now stand at 6-6 after the win.

“We’re getting better,” said head coach Sixx Johnson. “I think I’ve seen some promise every single game that we came out. I’m happy with the turnout.”

The Grizzlies had a slow start to the game and didn’t sink their first basket until over three minutes into the first quarter. Senior forward Aiyniah Pritchett (three points) got the ball rolling for Golden Valley on a three-point play. She was fouled on the layup and sunk her free-throw.

Junior guard Imani McGee (14 points) landed two free throws as the Grizzlies began to pull away from the Cougars with 3:30 left in the first quarter. McGee went on to score eight of Golden Valley’s 14 first-quarter points. 

“She’s the nucleus of our offense,” said Johnson of McGee. “We try to play through her and open up everything else.”

All 14 of McGee’s points were in the paint. She was able to use her size advantage to bully the Cougar defenders and lead the game in scoring.

“Once I see an open lane, I just go for it,” she said. “I’m very aggressive on the court.”

The first quarter was capped with a three-point shot from freshman point guard Milan Wright (nine points). As the ball fell from the net, the Golden Valley bench erupted from their seats and a chant began to ring through the gym: “She’s a freshman.”

Golden Valley held Kennedy to 11 points in the first half. Kennedy’s No. 20 (12 points) was responsible for all seven of the Cougars’ second-quarter points, including a buzzer-beater layup to help her squad break double-digits. 

More: 2019-20 TMU women’s basketball preview

Johnson was happy heading into the locker room with his team up 26-11 at halftime. A shutdown defense is what he tries to instill in his program.

“Our thing is we don’t like to give up double-digit quarters,” said Johnson. “If we can just make it tough for teams to score on us, then we’ve got a good chance.”

At the beginning of the second half, the Cougars appeared to be gaining momentum, outscoring the Grizzlies 9-5 in the third quarter.

The Grizzlies finished strong in the fourth quarter, extending their lead from seven to 16 points by the final buzzer. After a quick word from her coach, senior point guard Isabella Ferguson slowed her pace and was able to manage the game. 

“I was telling her a quality point guard has to manage the game,” said Johnson. “We were up 12, I think, with like two minutes to go. In that situation, we don’t have to rush to score, so let’s get a quality look instead of just trying to get something heroic down the stretch.”

The team was able to shut down Kennedy’s top scorers and keep its offense on its heels. They were able to keep the Cougars to single-digit points once again, even keeping them scoreless in the final four minutes of the game.

“We talked to each and made sure we were in our moment and locked in,” said Ferguson. “I think it’s competitive nature. I think we all have it.”

Although Golden Valley secured a double-digit win, victory did not come without some woes. Early foul trouble kept McGee benched for significant minutes in the second half. Cautious play limited her to only 3 second-half points. 

Golden Valley’s Isabella Ferguson (5) drives past Kennedy defender Melanie Castillon (2) at GV on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“I was very cautious of it,” said McGee. “I had to push through it. I had to be safe and not foul.”

The Grizzlies also had some miscues under the basket. Golden Valley was slower to the board than Kennedy, even giving the Cougars three chances to make a 3-point shot in the same possession in an effort to close the gap in the fourth quarter. 

This is an issue Johnson is trying to fix. He can be heard guiding his players into positions that put the Grizzlies in a more favorable situation.

“What I’ve been trying to make a big emphasis on this season is taking quality shots and not rushing,” said Johnson. “If we miss a shot and get an offensive rebound, we get another 30-second shot clock. I’ve been really focused on if we don’t have a clean layup, reset. Just bring the ball back out and try to get a quality look for the team.”

Golden Valley will aim to break the .500 mark and extend its winning streak to four against Burroughs High School. Tip-off will be 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Burroughs in Burbank, Calif.

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