Canyon girls hoops holds on to late lead against Hart

Canyon's Chidinma Okafor (13) and and Lucy Collins (33) go up to block a shot by Maddie Jensen (34) of Hart at Hart on Friday. Dan Watson/The Signal

With a minute and 40 seconds remaining in the game against Hart, Canyon girls basketball’s Lucy Collins made a basket to put Canyon ahead by one point.

Hart took possession, but it didn’t last long. Canyon’s Chidinma Okafor stole the ball and coasted down the court for a layup, then made the and-one afterwards.

Plays like that gave the Cowboys the momentum they needed to beat the Indians 56-55 at Hart High School on Friday night.

“It’s the end of the game. Every possession is critical,” Okafor said. “So leading up to that, I really wanted to capitalize on finishing and scoring.”

Okafor and fellow post player Collins combined to score 47 of Canyon’s 56 points. Okafor had 32 points.

Hart (11-11 overall, 4-4 in Foothill League) went on a five-point run to start the game, but the Cowboys were able to tie it up at 5-5 on a jumper from Okafor. The senior was able to tie the game two more times in the first quarter: once at 7-7 on two free throws and once at 14-14 on a three-point play with 32 seconds left.

The Cowboys (18-8, 5-3) started the second quarter with a 17-14 advantage and the Indians stayed right on their heels and limited them to just 12 points in the frame.

On the other side of the break, Kayla Hourigan made two free throws to bring Hart within two points of a lead at 34-32, but Canyon went on a run immediately after to gain a 39-34 lead.

Collins had her best quarter of the game in the third, scoring eight points.

“We work really well,” Okafor said of herself and Collins. “She does really well with catching the ball when I pass it to her and she sees me, so we complement each other and capitalize on rebounds and finishing.”

The Indians remained within two points for the majority of the final quarter. But for a moment, they were leading.

Leila Uribe hit a 3-pointer with two minutes to go in the game to put Hart up 50-49. But immediately after, Collins scored her layup and Okafor had her steal and basket to pull ahead once again.

In the game’s waning seconds, Uribe hit another three, this one from well beyond the arc, to make the final score 56-55. Had there been more time, more moments, the Indians may have just won it.

“I was thinking we needed three to have a chance at the game and I’m the best chance right now at taking it,” Uribe, who ended the game with 13 points, said. “Just got a man up and take it. Kobe, just gotta Kobe it and take it.”

Before the game, Hart and Canyon were in a tie for third place in the Foothill League standings. With the win, the Cowboys are the lone team in third with one week of league play remaining before playoffs.

To help motivate her team to stay strong in the final stretch of league, Canyon coach Jessica Haayer keys in on moments similar to Uribe’s buzzer-beater.

“I talk a lot about moments, and moments that stood out were the seconds counting down, the crowd chanting ‘I believe that we will win,’ and I talk to them about remembering that,” she said.

“You get to this point in the season and it’s hard, it’s a grind and you get into that same monotony of practice and you remind them of why they play.”

Hart next hosts West Ranch at 4:45 p.m. on Tuesday. Canyon will be at Saugus on Tuesday at 5 p.m.

Saugus 67, Golden Valley 15

The Centurions remain undefeated in Foothill League play at 8-0 and have an overall record of 21-4. Golden Valley is 7-14 and 1-7 and plays Moorpark today at 7 p.m. before resuming its Foothill League slate against Valencia at home on Tuesday. Tipoff is scheduled for 4:45 p.m.

Valencia 69, West Ranch 23

The Vikings move to 16-10 overall and 6-2 in Foothill League play, while West Ranch is 1-15 and 0-8.

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