The Tooele girls basketball team took the lead against the East Leopards at the 3:42 mark of the first quarter on Thursday, and it never let go for the remainder of the game to come away with a 50-40 non-region win in Salt Lake City.
Tooele (2-6) snapped a five-game losing streak with the win against East (1-3 in Class 4A) with one more non-region game before the region schedule begins.
Tooele coach Kris Ashby said it felt nice to see his team get back in the win column.
“I think tonight the girls really executed well,” Ashby said. “They came out and handled things well against a team that’s good. They’re kind of senior-dominated and have a lot of good players, and they play really hard. I think we matched that tonight.”
Sophomore guard Taylor Thomas gave Tooele the lead at 7-6. She followed that at the 2:41 mark of the first quarter with a jump shot, and then at the 1:47 mark she slapped a rebound out to senior guard McKenzie Alvarez, who ran the break and found sophomore forward Baylee Hansen for a layup and an 11-6 lead.
East kept the pressure on Tooele the whole game with its full-court press, but the Buffaloes continually worked through it to get to the basket and maintain the lead.
“We just started working together more,” Alvarez said. “We connected our passes. We didn’t turnover (the ball) as much. That’s what was killing us at the beginning.”
The Leopards forced 22 Buffalo turnovers, with several of those coming in the first few minutes of the game from passes sailing too far or into the Leopards’ hands. The easy baskets finally came for Tooele once it was able to adjust to East’s press.
“That was good that we were able to break it a little bit in the first half, and they went out of that press a little bit,” Ashby said. “I think [East] got a little bit tired down the stretch, and I think that helped us out.”
Forcing turnovers and making other defensive plays helped with wearing down East in order to break through the press. The Buffaloes slapped away seven blocks in the game, including four from Thomas, one from sophomore forward Courtney Schiwal, one from Hansen and one from junior forward Hannah Webber.
Webber was a part of five bench players who came in and maintained the lead for Tooele when the starters needed rest. Junior forward Fofoa Ungor, sophomore guard Amber Haskell, sophomore forward Whitney Leakehe and sophomore guard Rylee Whitehouse joined Webber off the bench and kept East from taking the lead. Tooele also got a little bit of scoring from these bench players as Haskell, Leakehe and Whitehouse all put in one basket each. Haskell’s came in the closing seconds of the first quarter on a one-handed floater that went up and in for a 13-7 lead going into the second quarter.
Tooele extended the lead to 20-11, which was highlighted by Thomas dishing a pass to Alvarez under the hoop for a basket. A similar play took place at the 4:01 mark when senior guard McKae Searle broke through East’s press, ran the fastbreak and found Hansen for a 12-foot jump shot and a 22-12 lead.
Searle did this again as she broke through the press and passed it off to Alvarez. The ball didn’t stay with Alvarez long as she quickly passed from her spot on the bottom corner over to Whitehouse for a layup. That ended the third quarter with Tooele leading 37-30.
Thomas opened the third quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Tooele a 43-30 lead at the 6:24 mark. East responded with its own 6-0 run, but Haskell came down and passed off to Alvarez. She then faked one defender and went up for a basket. Tooele held on in the final minutes despite furious defense from the Leopards.
Alvarez said there were things that worked for the Buffaloes on Thursday that will help be important to replicate in future games.
“Our defense was pretty good,” Alvarez said. “Our rotations were a lot better, and we executed a lot better.”
The Buffaloes return home tonight for a non-region game against Park City at 7 p.m. There are still two more non-region games on the schedule at the end of December, but this will be the last one before playing two Region 11 games next week.