Fallon rebounds from sluggish start, advances to title game
RENO — Winning another state title could be more difficult if Fallon has another rocky start like Friday’s opening win over Virgin Valley.
After going nearly four minutes without scoring to open the game and leading by only one after the first quarter, the Lady Wave basketball team got back on track late in the second quarter and coasted in the second half to a 52-19 win over the Bulldogs in the 3A state semifinal game at Reno High School.
“It was just an absolute mess,” Fallon coach Anne Smith said about the first half. “We were rushing our shots. I think we were timid and nervous. It was a combination of all of those things.”
Leilani Otuafi led all scorers with 18 points, including six of the team’s seven points in the first quarter, and cousin Leta Otuafi added 12 as Fallon will go for its second consecutive state title on Saturday.
Lowry upended Mojave, 72-38, earlier in the day and will meet Fallon at 2:40 p.m. at Lawlor Events Center for a rematch of last year’s state title game. Fallon has won seven in a row over Lowry and nine of the last 10 in the past three years.
But Saturday’s championship game could prove to be a difficult challenge if Fallon starts like it did against Virgin Valley.
“We need to start better. If we start like this, we’re in trouble,” Smith said. “That’s just a lack of concentration. At this level and this point in the season, we have to be concentrating.”
In the opening period, Fallon didn’t get on the board until 4 minutes, 16 seconds left when Leilani Otuafi drove to the basket after a steal to cut the deficit down to 4-2. She added a free throw 20 seconds later and Faith Cornmesser’s lone free throw tied the game at four with 1:54 left in the quarter. Otuafi chipped in another free throw and then converted a steal into another layup to give Fallon a 7-4 advantage.
Fallon started breaking free from Virgin Valley, which lost to the Lady Wave in last year’s state tournament opener, in the second quarter.
Caitlyn Welch opened the period with a 3-pointer and Otuafi’s layup and 3-pointer in the corner gave Fallon a 16-6 lead with 4:17 left. With a 10-point lead at halftime (21-11), Fallon responded to Smith’s challenge and outscored Virgin Valley, 22-1, in the third quarter.
“We started finishing and rebounding. It got us back in the swing,” Smith said about the third quarter.
After Virgin Valley’s lone point cut the deficit to 24-12 with 5:59 left in the quarter, Fallon scored 19 unanswered points to break the game open. The Otuafi cousins dominated the paint and perimeter and the Fallon defense continued to cause frustration. Leilani Otuafi’s steal and layup followed by Leta Otuafi’s putback on Welch’s miss started the 19-0 run, which was capped by Hannah Evans converting on the fast break to give Fallon a 43-12 lead at the end of the three quarters.
Note: During halftime, the Fallon boys basketball team was honored as the 3A state academic team champion.