Fallon girls wins 3rd straight 3A Regional title
LVN Editor Emeritus
RENO — A lead start to finish … a mild scare after halftime … and 73 consecutive wins over 3A opponents.
And the last loss to a 3A came at the hands of Lowry in 2016.
The Lady Wave dominated Lowry Saturday afternoon to win its third straight 3A NIAA Regional Girls Basketball title with another convincing win, a 19-point victory on a neutral court, 67-48, at North Valleys High School.
Fallon advances to this week’s state tournament, which begins Friday at 11 a.m. at the Orleans in Las Vegas. Even with the loss, Lowry advances to state as the Northern 3A No. 2 seed. Fallon will either play Moapa Valley or Boulder City in the first round. Their championship game was delayed until Monday night because of last week’s rare snowfall in Las Vegas.
Fallon coach Anne Smith said the team talked about the game and being focused, and as a result, she felt the team played their game, both on offense and defense.
“We went over the game plan and made some adjustments,” she added.
The continual rematches at both regional and state have taken on the suspense of a Stephen King novel between two storied rivals that hail from Silver State prep sports havens. Lowry, which defeated Fallon in the regional final three years ago, and the Lady Wave have faced each other in both regional state 3A championship games since that time.
“We always said that we’ve had bad memories in this gym so we had to make a good one by winning against this team,” said Fallon guard Leilani Otuafi.
Except for a brief run from Lowry in the third quarter, though, the Wave dominated this year’s title game despite the Bucks nailing eight 3-pointers.
Smith said Lowry has great outside shooters that cause any opposing team concerns.
“Their 3-point shots kept them in the game,” Smith pointed out. “But we knew that going into the game.”
Two quick baskets from Kenna Hamlin’s inbound pass layup and Leilani Otuafi’s putback basket shot the Wave to a 4-0 lead and 6 minutes later, Fallon took a 21-12 advantage into the second quarter.
Except for Hamlin’s arching 3-point shot with 3:22 remaining, Fallon punished the Lady Bucks more with its inside game and tenacious defense with a full-court press and pressure on the inbound pass. After Hamlin nailed her trey for a 15-3 Fallon lead, Lowry chipped away with eight points, which included a 3-pointer from Rebecca Kuskie and a time-expiring trey from Sydney Connors.
Hamlin said she was surprised Lowry’s defense left her open for the 3-point shot.
“I just saw it and thought no one is on me so I was going to shoot it,” said the Lady Wave guard. “I had the confidence and felt it was going in. It set the tone and put confidence in me and confidence in the team. Lowry did not expect that shot, and that had them worried that someone was open.”
With seconds remaining in the quarter and Fallon pulling back its defense to protect the easy basket, Connors stunned the Wave by unleashing a long, arching two-thirds-court shot that swished the net to cut the lead to 21-12.
Up until that point, cousins Lani and Leta Otuafi fed each other with precise passes that resulted in layups, and Chandler McAlexander, who dominated Truckee the day before, boxed out Lowry for a putback shot.
Lowry settled down in the second quarter, but Fallon’s well-rounded offense was too overwhelming as the Wave led by as many as 15 points.
Madison Whitaker stepped in to show whey she may be next year’s heir apparent on offense, scoring nine points. The Fallon sophomore swiped the ball and raced half-court for a layup, and also showed her versatility with a pair of jump shots including a spin around jumper. She finished with 13 points.
While Whitaker looked for the open shot, McAlexander added four from the inside.
Fallon couldn’t find an answer for stopping Lowry’s long-range game plan. Kuskie and Connors each drained 3-pointers, and the Lady Bucks made 3 of 4 free throws.
Kuskie knocked the wind out of the Lady Wave with a pair of treys in the third quarter to ignite a 9-2 run with Fallon’s only basket coming from Alexis Jarrett’s jump shot. Lowry cut the lead to 39-34 before the Wave regrouped with six points from Leta and Lani Otuafi. Connors struck one more time with the long ball for Lowry’s only points for the final 3 minutes.
“That run Lowry made was 100 percent on us,” Smith said. “We didn’t pick up the players, we threw up bad passes and on the transition we made turnovers.”
Leta Otuafi agreed.
“We got out of our rhythm a little, and were kind of cold, but we picked it up,” she said.
Leilani Otuafi said she felt the team overlooked Lowry in the second half.
“We had a good lead but they started coming back,” she said. “We need to work on all 32 minutes and not just 16 minutes.”
A 21-11 fourth quarter put the game out of reach for Lowry.
“It was like they (Lowry) got tired, and we capitalized on their turnovers and scored,” Smith said.
“We started off kind of slow, we got back up, and we ended kind of slow. I don’t know what was going on there,” said Lowry girls basketball coach Melanie Thurmond. “You can’t win a basketball game with 20 turnovers. They converted on most of them and that was the difference in the game. They have won two straight championships for a reason.”
The Otuafi cousins combined for 14 points in the final stanza, and Jarrett chipped in with four to deliver the championship. The Greenwave patiently worked the offense and relied on the layup for the majority of points. Leilani Otuafi led Fallon with 16 points, and Leta Otuafi added 13. Leta Otuafi said the team played for the entire game, knowing the regional title was theirs with hard work.
On defense, Jarrett and Hamlin, who had 11 points, pestered Lowry with their unrelenting pressure, causing the Lady Bucks to turn the ball over.
Hamlin, who was sidelined last year because of injury, said she and Jarrett have played together since they were younger, and excel together on defense.
“When it came to the fourth quarter, we didn’t want them to come back into the game,” she said.
Hamlin said the Wave didn’t want Lowry to come close like they did in the third quarter.
“Both of them have been scrappy all year, and that’s good,” Smith said, adding Hamlin has been a defensive dream this year. “The referees let us play.”
Smith added having four players scoring in double figures was great.
“You can’t ask for anything more,” she said.
Leta Otuafi knows the end is nearing for her high-school career, but the Fallon senior said she is proud to be part of the team.
“It’s a team sport,” she said. “We can’t win it by ourselves.”
Kuskie drained her fourth trey of the game with 4:14 left in the game, and Connors had a hook shot and free throw.