NIWOT — The process of resurrecting the Niwot girls basketball program has been long and arduous, but one that Terri Ward takes great pride in.
Her Cougars gave her the biggest win she has had since she returned to the bench last season, turning the tables on Greeley Central —a team they had lost to by 16 points earlier in the season — with a 42-41 win on Tuesday night.
“This is huge, this is absolutely huge,” said Ward, whose team improved to 8-10 overall and, more importantly, is just a game back of Greeley Central for fourth place in the Northern League that is likely to get four teams into the tournament.
“Hey, we are taking it one game at a time and we only lost to Longmont by nine last time and we are ready to rock and roll.”
Greeley Central, which never led in the game, drops to 13-5 overall and 5-4 inside the Northern, which is controlled by both Silver Creek and Longmont.
Niwot jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead that felt a lot bigger with the way the Cougars established control on the defensive end of the floor.
The focus for the Cougars was on the Greeley Central trio of Kendra Steffen, Andrea Williams and Marley Appelhans, who burned them for 43 of their 46 points last time out in Greeley.
The interior defense led by junior Alyssa Jenkins made sure none of them were able to get a clean look.
“They are doing exactly what I’m asking them to do,” Ward said. “Everybody that is watching us right now must be saying, ‘Oh my God, they are playing zone.’ I didn’t play zone for the 20 years I was with them before, but it is not like our zone is passive, they get after it.”
That same Wildcat threesome combined for 15 points on Tuesday — seven from Steffen, eight from Williams and zero from Appelhans, who 0 for 8 from the field.
“The defense has been strong and it sets our offense in motion,” said Jenkins, who filled up the stat sheet with blocks, rebounds, steals and along with YY Chen led the team with nine points. “It gives us the confidence and the energy we need.”
The Cougars used a little reverse psychology against the overconfident Wildcats, who they assumed would come in with some confidence after handling them early in the season.
“Last time we didn’t play our best and knowing that they thought they could just come out and beat us, we just decided to play as strong as we could,” Jenkins said. “And we showed them a better side of us.”
Things got interesting late for Niwot. The Cougars were up 41-35 with 25 seconds to go after Chen hit one of two free throws.
Mallory Cranwell came down and hit her first 3-pointer of the night to trim the lead to 41-38 with 11 seconds left. A Monica Pilewskie free throw made it a two-possession game with 8.6 seconds left, and it was a good thing she did, because with 0.8 remaining, Cranwell banked home her second consecutive 3-pointer to make a one-point game.
Jami Albert was fouled with .02 seconds to play and missed both free throws to run out the clock.
“We are just a better basketball team now. Our defense is fabulous and that is what runs our offense,” said Ward of the drastic improvement since their first meeting with the Wildcats. “They are buying in and everything we are telling them they are believing.”
Miracle Guzman scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Wildcats, including all eight they scored in the third quarter.
After Chen and Jenkins, Niwot — which had eight of their nine players score — got six from Hannah Sarosi and five from Pilewskie.
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Niwot 42, Greeley Central 41
GREELEY CENTRAL (13-5, 5-4)
Erinn Gonzales 2 0-0 4, Kendra Steffen 2 1-2 7, Mallory Cranwell 2 0-0 6, Miracle Guzman 7 2-5 16, Andrea Williams 4 0-2 8, Marley Appelhans 0 0-2 0, Hosanna Varela 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 3-11 41.
NIWOT (8-10, 4-5)
Jenna Edwards 0 0-0 0, Hannah Sarosi 3 0-0 6, YY Chen 2 5-10 9, Alyssa Jenkins 3 3-7 9, Keena Strope 1 2-3 4, Laila McCaffrey 2 0-0 4, Monica Pilewskie 2 1-2 5, Emily Mercier 0 1-2 1, Jami Albert 1 2-4 4. Totals 14 14-28 42.
Score by quarters:
Greeley Central 5 10 8 18 — 41
Niwot 12 11 4 15 — 42
3-point field goals — Greeley Central (4): Steffen 2, Cranwell 2; Niwot (0): None. Total fouls — Greeley Central 24; Niwot 12. Fouled out — Gonzales, Guzman.