Which of these San Juan Basin League girls basketball teams is undefeated?
Neither, after Saturday. But in front of a packed Ignacio High School gym, the Bobcats’ girls basketball team decided to play the part, and they knocked off previously unbeaten Norwood 55-48 to win an SJBL title.
The Bobcats (12-7, 7-1 SJBL) made the Mavericks (18-1, 5-1 SJBL) look the underdog, too.
“I just knew there was one thing standing between us and the title,” IHS senior Michelle Simmons said. “And it was them.”
On senior night, Simmons led Ignacio with 19 points, not so much from a high-powered Bobcats offense, but on fast breaks created by a defense that gave the Mavericks no space to breathe much less move.
IHS head coach Justa Whitt said the Bobcats knew they needed to restrict Norwood post Harlie Williams’ pretty and precise turnaround jumper.
Williams still led all scorers with 22 points, but the Bobcats held her to just nine in the first three quarters to give them enough space to build a 42-26 lead at the end of three frames behind Simmons and Sky Cotton, whose hot perimeter shooting tallied 17 total points.
“Take her (Williams) out of the game, and there’s no one left, and that’s what we did,” Simmons said.
Correction: “That’s what Gabs did, I should say.”
Whitt stuck Gabs Garcia – “our best defender, and all of our girls play great defense” – on Williams “like white on rice,” she said, and Norwood’s 5-10 post didn’t know how to handle it.
The rest of the Bobcats – “have to give our bench credit, absolutely,” Whitt said – did the rest, obstructing the passing lanes and keeping hands to faces.
“I guess in their opinion they probably did,” Williams said. “But I feel like I just didn’t execute.”
She finally did in the fourth quarter, when the hook shots started to rattle in, pushing the Mavericks on an 18-8 run to pull within six with about two minutes to play. They’d trailed by as many as 18 points.
Whitt put in all of her seniors – Simmons, Jordan Cuthair, Valerie Armstrong, Pamela Cotton and Mariah Vigil – for their last home-court game, before “all of the sudden ‘boom, boom, boom; we have to get it back under control,’” Whitt said.
“We got to put a little excitement into it,” Sky Cotton said.
But Cotton knocked down two free throws with 10 seconds remaining in regulation for the final margin to put a different kind of excitement back into the gym and the near-capacity crowd – the league champion kind.
“We wanted to go in and give the fans a game to remember,” Cotton said.