ELKO – Since the second half of league play of the Division 3A North started, almost every game the Elko girls basketball team has played has been a must-win.
Elko will close the regular season at 1 p.m. Saturday against the Lady Buckaroos of Lowry on senior day at Centennial Gymnasium, serving as another crucial contest.
The Lady Indians have answered the bell except for one game – a 53-point blowout loss at home on Jan. 20 to defending state champion Fallon – Elko winning six of its last seven games, avenging two losses from the first half of the league schedule in the process.
Elko earned a thrilling 63-56 victory Tuesday over Spring Creek at Centennial Gymnasium, surviving a ferocious comeback by the Lady Spartans in the fourth quarter.
The Lady Spartans were scheduled to close the regular season against Lowry at 6 p.m. Friday in Spring Creek, the outcome of both games for Spring Creek and Elko providing major implications in the seedings for the regional tournament.
A Spring Creek win guaranteed the Lady Spartans the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, a win by the Lady Bucks offering them a chance at the No. 2 seed – depending on the outcome Saturday against the Lady Indians.
Two through five is a logjam, Fernley currently ranking fifth but only one game out of second place in the standings.
“We have to win out. We can’t control what happens with other teams in their games, but we can control what we do ourselves,” said Elko coach Kaaren Ross. “I want to see us focus. We have to be prepared and locked in mentally and not turn the ball over. That has been our Achilles heel all season. We have to take care of the ball.”
In Elko’s 50-45 loss on Jan. 9 to Lowry in Winnemucca, the Lady Indians took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Turnovers did the Lady Indians in.
They committed double-digit giveaways in the first and fourth periods – committing 29 in the ballgame – the Lady Buckaroos closing with only 13 turnovers in the contest.
Elko did a fairly good job of limiting most of Lowry’s players to even with or below their season averages in scoring, but senior Alyssa Kuskie got loose on the Lady Indians – scoring 20 points in the ballgame, draining three 3s.
Junior Alexis Elquist packed the Lady Indians offensively, pouring in a game-high 23 points and leading all players with 10 rebounds (seven offensive) – finishing with a double-double.
Elko looked like an improved team between the ears – handling pressure better on Tuesday against Spring Creek – but the Lady Indians still turned the ball over 28 times, most coming in the fourth quarter.
Senior Gabe Rowley notched the game of her life against the Lady Spartans, something Ross hopes will continue Saturday and throughout the regional tournament.
Rowley scored a game-high 24 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and led Elko with five assists.
“Gabe was just knocking down shots. The scoring was nice, but I really loved how aggressive she was and how she kept her composure and handled the ball,” Ross said. “That’s the kind of player we need her to be and the type of point guard we have been waiting for.”
Elko also gained double-digits effort from Elquist and Baum, Elquist scoring seven of her 13 points in the overtime period and Baum closing with a double-double on 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lady Indians will look to improve to 11-5 in league play in their final game of the regular season, hoping to move to at least No. 3 in the Division 3A North standings and avoid the dreaded 4-5 matchup in the first round of the regional tournament – the winner of the quarterfinal contest locked into playing No. 1 and unbeaten Fallon with a trip to state on the line in the semifinal round.
Saturday’s game will be a senior-day celebration for four Lady Indians: Baum, Rowley, Lauryn Drake and Sariah Pulley.
Tipoff against Lowry is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Gymnasium.