Panthers lose opener, doomed by fast-break defense

The final score was ugly, and the turnovers were numerous, but the Montezuma-Cortez High School Panthers girls basketball showed signs of progress.

Opening the season at home against Delta on Dec. 2, the Panthers looked better than they did much of last year, falling 47-19 to a team that had finished 19-5.

Looking to slow down the pace in the first half, the Panthers defense held tough in the early going as Delta players repeatedly failed to convert shots.

“Starting out, we knew it was going to be ugly in how we had to do it,” said Panthers’ head coach John McHenry. “Defensively, we had some mental lapses right before the half.”

Trailing 25-12 to begin the third quarter, the Panthers nearly scored on open three-point shot attempts by Yannabah Bayless and Abriana Conklin before allowing a long Delta run that brought the score to 35-14 at the end of the third quarter.

Keying the Delta run were several unimpeded fast-break baskets and several easy put-backs after offensive rebounds.

“The box-out and the transition have to be our key improvements,” McHenry said. “We need to stop the runaway breakaways because that will deflate us.”

Turnovers haunted the Panthers in the fourth quarter, but several rebounds by junior Abby Chupp led to easy buckets as the Panthers scored 5 points in the quarter in route to a 47-19 loss.

“I felt like we did well,” said Conklin. “Considering how young we are and how inexperienced we are, we did pretty awesome.”

Next up for the Panthers will the Shiprock Tournament, on Dec. 5-7.

“They’re coming along,” said McHenry of his young team. “We are making improvement after improvement. I keep using the cliché that this is not a sprint, but a marathon. Our rewards will come.”