By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The KG girls basketball team managed just two points in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's District 9C tournament semifinal game with the Big Sandy Pioneers.
But those two points from KouGar senior Cady Arifin would be all the scoring KG needed.
The KouGars were able to survive a furious Pioneer rally and hold on for a 40-38 win to advance to Saturday night's championship game of the 2004 District 9C girls basketball tournament.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the KouGars led Big Sandy 38-28. But the Pioneers scored the game's next eight points to pull within two points at 38-36 with under a minute left in the contest.
KG finally ended its almost seven-minute scoring drought when Casie Toner found Arifin wide open underneath the basket for an uncontested layup.
Big Sandy answered seconds later. Ashley Goodian raced the length of the floor and converted her fast break layup to pull the Pioneers back to within two points, 40-38 with thirty seconds left in the game.
Big Sandy was then forced to put the KouGars on the free-throw line. Britta Umbach missed the front end of a one-and-one situation, giving Big Sandy a chance to tie the game or take the lead. But Goodian's long three-point attempt was off the mark.
KG then threw away an inbound pass with less than 10 seconds left in the game, but the Pioneers again came up short in an attempt to win the game. With six seconds left, Umbach missed another free throw and Jessica Amsbaugh sprinted down the floor and heaved one more desperation three-point attempt to win the game, but again it was off the mark.
"We really pulled one out tonight," said KG head coach Jennifer Wendland after the game. "We didn't play very well in the fourth quarter and Big Sandy really battled back.
"But Cady Arifin stepped up big and got us a basket when we really needed it," Wendland added. "She has done that for us all season and she was great again tonight."
Meanwhile, Big Sandy head coach Robin Pearson said that his troops were extremely disappointed after the heartbreaking loss. But he was proud of his team's determination to come back in the fourth quarter.
"We had several chances to win the game at the end," Pearson said. "That is where you want to be. I was really proud of how the girls fought back because we got pretty far behind in the game.
"If we could have played the whole game like we did in the fourth quarter, things might have been different," Pearson added. "But that is just the way basketball is sometimes. It just took us too long to get our offense going."
Said Wendland: "We knew this would be a really tough game tonight. I think our team was well prepared, but you have to give Big Sandy a lot of credit. They fought hard and they are a much better basketball team than they were the last time we played them."
In the first half, the Pioneers struggled to find a rhythm offensively, but were able to keep things close behind the play of freshman Shalayna Pearson and sophomore center Naomi Williams.
Still, Arifin would be the difference all night for the KouGars. Every time the Pioneers closed the gap, it seemed Arifin would hit a big shot. Late in the first half, Big Sandy had reeled off six straight points to cut the lead to 19-15 when Arifin drilled a long three-pointer. Whitney Hansen followed Arifin's three with one of her own to give KG a 24-17 halftime lead.
"I thought we played pretty well in the first half," Wendland said. "But we didn't finish the game like we started offensively and a lot of that is because Big Sandy played such hard defense tonight."
In the third quarter, the KouGars were able to keep their lead behind Arifin. She scored another nine points in the period and again came up big when her team needed it the most. The Pioneers were trailing 35-28 and had the ball with six seconds left in the quarter, but Arifin intercepted the Pioneer inbound pass at half court and then proceeded to drill a 30-foot shot at the buzzer to push the lead back up to ten points at 38-28. That was KG's last bucket until Arifin's heroics in the final seconds of the game.
Overall, Arifin scored a game-high 23 points, including five threes. Umbach also chipped in with six points in the win. The Pioneers were paced by Pearson's team-high 10 points. Goodian and Sandy Zeiger chipped in with nine each in the losing effort.
"The girls are pretty disappointed right now," Pearson said. "But we are going to have to pick our heads up and get ready to play on Friday. They know this tournament is not over yet for us."
Big Sandy will now face Turner in loser-out action tonight at 8:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Wendland will have exactly one day to prepare for the District 9C championship game where they will take on archrival Blue Sky at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night.
"It is going to be a very tough game," Wendland said of the Eagles. "We will have to be very well prepared, and offensively we will need to be more consistent and go inside against them. But we are looking forward to it. The kids will be vary excited to play on Saturday night."
KG 40, Big Sandy 38
Big Sandy 8 9 11 10 - 38
KG 12 12 14 2 - 40
Big Sandy - Ashley Goodian 9, Naomi Williams 6, Sarah Yirsa 4, Shalayna Pearson 10, Sandy Zeiger 9.
KG - Cady Arifin 23, Mandy Rambo 5, Casie Toner 6, Whitney Hanson 4, Britta Umbach 6.
Total fouls - KG 15, Big Sandy 15. Fouled out - Rambo. Three point goals - Arifin 5, Goodian 1.