HIGHLANDS RANCH -- For more than a half the Legacy girls basketball team had kept Highlands Ranch in check.
The Lightning were trailing by two and had the ball with a chance to tie or go up in the third quarter. Then in a matter of minutes Falcons were up by 10 and they were on their way to an easy 61-33 win Tuesday night.
It was a quick turn from a tight game to a blowout, and the Falcons' defense had a lot to do with it.
"They came out in that second half and put pressure on us defensively," Legacy coach Craig Van Patten said. "We didn't handle it well and turned the ball over too many times. Against a team like Highlands Ranch if you turn the ball over you're done for."
It didn't look that way early. Playing against a program that has captured seven state titles since 2000, the defending champion Lightning were holding their own. They weren't scoring -- they trailed 21-16 at the break -- but they were keeping the Falcons from doing much offensively.
But Highlands Ranch found its rhythm in the third quarter. A free throw and a 3-pointer from Abriana Lujan put the Falcons up eight. After a basket by Caitlyn Smith, Kelsey Wainright hit a bucket and then fed Lujan at the top of the key for another 3-pointer to give the Falcons a 34-21 lead and forced Legacy to call a timeout with 2:42 left in the third quarter.
"They're pretty strong with their press and I think we let their shooters get hot," said Smith, who led the Lightning with 14 points. "They had a lot of points from outside. They started getting it going."
They also started forcing Legacy (3-3) into bad passes and turnovers. The Lightning finished with 28 turnovers, unofficially.
"We have some young kids on this team, you see that lead start to grow and you have a tendency to force things that weren't there," Van Patten. "When we did that it spiraled out of control."
The players weren't talking as much, which led to some turnovers.
"We weren't communicating as well as we did in the first half," Jenna Fenton said. "We just have to find our groove."
They also have to find their identity, and an early season game against a perennial state champion can help down the road.
"We want to have the losses in the early season help us and push us into league so we can be competitive in our conference," Smith said.
Highlands Ranch 61, Legacy 33
At Highlands Ranch HS
Caitlyn Smith 5 4-4 14, Lopez 2, 0-0 5, Courtney Smith 2 0-2 5, Fenton 1 1-2 3, Kuyper 1 1-2 3, Neely 1 0-0 2, Paulson 0 1-4 1. Totals 12 7-14 33.
HIGHLANDS RANCH (61)
Lujan 5 2-4 14, Hickey 5 1-2 14, Currie 1 6-6 8, Montgomery 4 0-0 8, Wainright 3 0-0 6, Morgan 1 2-2 4, Starks 1 0-0 3, Childress 1 0-0 2, Powner 0 2-2 2. Totals 21 13-16 61.
Score by quarters:
Legacy 7 9 5 12 -- 33
Highlands Ranch 9 12 23 19 -- 61
3-point field goals -- Legacy (2): Lopez, Courtney Smith; Highlands Ranch (6): Hickey 3, Lujan, Starks. Total fouls -- Legacy 15, Highlands Ranch 13. Fouled out -- None. Technical fouls -- None.