BOULDER -- Highlands Ranch's girls basketball team did exactly what it wanted to do while throttling Legacy standout Kailey Edwards for an entire half.
However, as is the case with any team harboring state championship dreams, other Lightning players were more than ready to pick up the slack until their leader got on track.
Led by a brilliant performance from freshman Courtney Smith, Legacy advanced to its second Class 5A state title game in three years with a 64-61 win against defending state champion Highlands Ranch at the Coors Events Center.
Smith made all eight of her attempts from the field to finish with 17 points, while senior Emily Glen went 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in the final 22.5 seconds to lead the Lightning. Legacy will take on Monarch for the state title on Friday.
"We knew they were probably going to try and shut down Kailey. If I was the opposing coach, that's what I would do," Legacy coach Craig Van Patten said. "We talked about other kids needing to step up. Fortunately they did."
While the University of Denver-bound Edwards struggled during the first half, getting held without a field goal while scoring only two points, Smith eagerly exploited the gaps in the Falcons' defense. The freshman forward made all four of her shots in the first half, including a 3-pointer, as the Lightning managed to battle into a 27-27 tie at the break despite Edwards' scoring drought.
"We wanted to get it to the person who was on," said Smith, who also grabbed 10 rebounds. "We got to the 3-point line and also were passing the ball across to the corners, which were open. I guess that was me. It feels great being on, but it was about getting it to the right teammate."
Smith made four more shots in a row during the third quarter, allowing Legacy (23-4) to take a 49-46 lead into the fourth. The Lightning built a seven-point lead early in the final frame after 3-pointers by Glen and Jordan Salaz, but the Falcons remained close down the stretch.
The Lightning led 60-56 with 2 minutes remaining before Highlands Ranch senior Jayln Yates knocked down a jumper, trimming Legacy's lead to two points. A Legacy turnover gave the Falcons an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead with a 3-pointer, but Glen corralled the rebound of an errant long-range attempt and promptly knocked down two free throws, giving Legacy a 62-58 edge with 22.5 seconds remaining.
Highlands Ranch's Michaela Neuhaus, the state's leading scorer in Class 5A and a future DU teammate of Edwards, hit a cold-blooded 3-pointer with 12.6 seconds left to keep Highlands Ranch within one point. But Glen answered with another pair of free throws with 10.4 remaining, giving Legacy a 64-61 lead.
Neuhaus, who led all scorers with 19 points but was held without a second-half field goal until her late 3-pointer, managed to launch a final well-contested 3 that fell awry in the waning moments.
Edwards scored seven points in the second half to finish with nine, while junior Caitlyn Smith chipped in with 13 points for Legacy.
"I just thought of practice and thought of all the girls, no one else," said Glen, who led the Lightning with 18 points. "Not the crowd, just me, myself, and my team. I just knew I had to stay calm and sink them."
Pat Rooney can be reached at email@example.com
Legacy 64, Highlands Ranch 61
At Coors Events Center
HIGHLANDS RANCH (22-5)
Lujan 0 0-0 0, Wainright 7 0-0 14, Neuhaus 4 9-10 19, Morgan 6 1-3 13, Currie 0 0-0 0, Hickey 2 4-4 9, Yates 2 2-2 6, Opheim 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 16-19 61.
Glen 4 6-6 18, Salaz 1 0-0 3, Edwards 2 5-8 9, Caitlyn Smith 5 3-4 13, Courtney Smith 8 0-0 17, Lopez 2 0-0 4, Kuyper 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 14-18 64.
Score by quarters:
Highlands Ranch 17 10 19 15 -- 61
Legacy 13 14 22 15-- 64
3-point field goals -- Highlands Ranch (3): Neuhaus 2, Hickey; Legacy (6): Glenn 4, Courtney Smith, Salaz. Total fouls -- Highlands Ranch 14, Legacy 16. Fouled out -- None. Technical fouls -- None.