Valencia Vikings girls basketball played a defensive masterpiece on Friday, holding the hosting West Ranch Wildcats scoreless through the entire first half.
The Vikings won the game 39-16 after leading 17-0 at halftime, denying the Wildcats any points in the first two quarters.
Both teams played physical defense but only Valencia (14-8, 6-3) found offensive rhythm in the opening half. The Vikings were led by senior Libby Oxciano and freshman Cara McKell, who both registered 14 points and eight rebounds. McKell was a big factor in West Ranch’s offensive woes, as the freshman totaled four steals and a block.
“I think [today] just shows we have a lot of mental fortitude,” Oxciano said. “We just had to get through that little hump. We had a lot of little mental lapses, but we got through it in the end, which is all that matters.”
West Ranch (4-17, 1-8) was able to keep the Vikings at bay early in each of the first three quarters. Valencia eventually worked the ball inside and found open looks for points.
The Wildcats got off some clean looks but just couldn’t get anything to drop into the hoop. West Ranch made its first shot midway through the third quarter thanks to an Abigail Lin 3-pointer.
The Cats scored seven points in the third while holding the Vikings to just three. It appeared West Ranch took every bit of momentum but Valencia would close out the game with a 19-point quarter to seal the deal on its sixth league win of the year.
Junior guard Aubrey Molina led the Wildcats with six points and six rebounds.
Vikings coach Kevin Honaker knows the team won’t win many games scoring just 39 points but has been impressed with his team’s defensive performances as of late.
“We are really happy with what we’re doing defensively,” Honaker said. “So, I’m hoping that that stays. We’re getting shots. We’re just missing shots. So, we just got to slow down and keep shooting because shooters shoot and they’ll start going in.”
Cats coach Daisy Cardenas felt the same with her team’s defensive output but thought it was just one of those nights when the shots aren’t falling.
“I kept telling them, ‘Your defense is gonna help you,’” Cardenas said. “It did translate, we just couldn’t finish. [The ball] was literally just rolling around the rim and coming out.”
The first-year Cardenas says she consistently has her young coaching staff going up against the team in practice in order to show the Cats how intense their defense should be, while helping their offense grow.
It’s been a rocky season for West Ranch but the players remain determined to win every game they’re in.
“We haven’t had the best season in terms of winning and losing but of course, there’s more to it than just that,” Cardenas said. “A lot of it is attitudes and to keep fighting because we have nothing to lose, and we have nothing to win at this point. So, it’s more like playing for yourself in a way of understanding it’s more than just winning and losing. And I think a lot of them understand that.”
Valencia lies on the other side of the standings and needs just one more league win to clinch a playoff spot. Honaker believes the Vikings will have a shot at beating any opponent if the team can keep playing defense like it did on Friday.
“I think our defense kept us in the game,” said Honaker. “We got some steals in some easy baskets. So that’s going to be our mainstay. I don’t think our offense will ever reach our defensive height, which is fine. Maybe some nights we’ll shoot great and we’ll be really tough against anybody. But we’ll be in every game if we play defense like we’re doing.”
West Ranch will take the week off before heading to Hart on Friday. The Vikings will look to punch their ticket to the playoffs on Tuesday, in what could be a statement win, when the team hosts Canyon at 5 p.m.
“I think I just want to see everybody getting on the floor, picking up each other and just being a dog,” Oxciano said.