COTTONWOOD — Freshman Hannah Golan and sophomore Jaliyah Wiggins are known on the Branson girls basketball team as 10.5 – the average of the their jersey numbers, 10 and 11.
There was nothing average about the underclass duo Tuesday in the Bulls’ 57-48 CIF NorCal Division V regional final win over No. 1 West Valley.
Golan scored 16 of her 24 points in the first half, and Wiggins was seemingly everywhere on the floor in the second half as the Bulls (26-9) turned a 29-27 halftime deficit into a nine-point win that got closer down the stretch.
“For Jaliyah to be a sophomore and Hannah to be a freshman on this stage and take us to the state championship game is a credit to how hard they work,” Branson coach Zach Borello said.
The Eagles, meanwhile, went scoreless for a five-minute stretch and dug themselves a hole not even a spirited last-minute comeback – after both Golan and Wiggins had fouled out – could fill. The Eagles finish the season 26-9 and join Enterprise as Northern Section girls teams to reach the NorCal finals – a feat the Hornets accomplished last year in Division II.
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“Branson is a hell of a team, they capitalized on every mistake we made,” Eagles coach Lenny Ehn said.
West Valley jumped out to a 14-7 lead after the first period as Rose Matthews banked in a 3-pointer, Jasee Heacock scored in the paint off a Hannah Wayne assist and sophomore Madalynn Basset hit a right-win triple and ended the period with a low-post basket but missed the and-one.
It didn’t help Branson that both Wiggins and Golan each picked up a pair of fouls in the opening eight minutes as the game was called tight in the opening half.
“Fouls played a role for both teams,” Ehn said.
And while West Valley made a push at the end of the first with Wiggins sitting, the Bulls’ point made quick work for the visitor’s to start the second quarter.
She picked a West Valley players pocket and found Golan in transition for an easy layup, and for good measure swiped another Eagles’ pass on the ensuing possession and took it coast-to-coast to cut the lead to 14-11.
And again fouls would play a part as the middle of the second quarter was slogged with six combined fouls in nearly three minutes. However, the Eagles were unable to capitalize of their freebies, hitting 4-of-9 in the period.
Golan gave Branson a 26-24 lead with less than 90 seconds left in half, only to be answered by Bassett’s trey on the next Eagles’ possession as West Valley took a 29-27 lead into intermission.
“We went into the half saying ‘It’s a one-possession game, let’s dig out heels in defensive and keep wearing them down,’ ” Borello said.
Message received as the Bulls held West Valley to four points – a Wayne layup and two Steele free throws over the first four minutes of the third period. But Branson couldn’t capitalize either as West Valley held the Bulls to 10 in the period and the Eagles trailed 37-35 heading into the final stanza.
“Their defense was stifling at times and it was hard to get into stuff,” Borello said of the Eagles. “They disrupted us in the zone, going from a 2-2-1 to a 1-2-2 to a 1-3-1. When they went to man, Jaliyah Wiggins just kind of took over and started attacking.”
She caused havoc on the defensive end, facilitated on offense as the Bulls used a 10-0 spurt to start the fourth to distance themselves from West Valley and hold the Eagles scoreless for the first four minutes of the quarter.
“She’s insane. She can see all the lane and when the time comes, she just goes,” Golan said.
Golan hit a 3-ball to start the period and scored in transition off two missed West Valley free throws before picking up her fourth foul with 6:30 left to play. Wiggins dribbled through the lane and found Madison Morrison in the left corner for a 3 and a 45-35 lead. On the next Bulls’ possession, with two seconds left on the shot clock, the inbound play found Ashley Yanabu wide open in the corner for a third triple of the period and a 13-point edge.
Bassett’s two free throws finally got West Valley on the board in the fourth with 4:04 left, but the Eagles trailed 51-37.
“I don’t think our energy was where it needed to be (in the second half),” Ehn said. “We turned the ball over and that leads to transition opportunities for them.
“It looked like we got tight and didn’t want to shoot and when we did shoot, the shots weren’t falling.”
But the Eagles didn’t stop battling, even down 15, and saw a glimmer of hope with Golan fouled out with 1:47 remaining only to have Wiggins whistled for her fifth two seconds later.
“It got interesting from my bench,” Borello said. “I kept looking up at the scoreboard and it was a five or six possession game, but it didn’t feel that way.”
But the Eagles’ rally was too little, too late as West Valley closed the game of a 7-1 run, falling short of reaching the state finals.
“They fight for every minute of every game,” Ehn said.
No. 1 West Valley 48, No. 2 Branson 57
Branson (26-9) – 7-20-10-20 – 57
West Valley (26-9) – 14-15-6-13 – 48
Bulls – Oliver 1, Tagliaferri 2, Morrison 6, Wiggins 11, Yanabu 13, Golan 24.
Eagles – Baxter 4, Wayne 4, Steele 5, Matthews 7, Heacock 12, Bassett 16
3-pointers – BHS – 6: Morrison (2), Golan (2), Yanabu (2); WV – 4: Matthews, Steele, Bassett (2)
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