Sometimes a loss can be the proverbial blessing in disguise. Alex Buechler hopes and thinks that may be the case for the Arapahoe girls basketball team, which saw its perfect season come to a halt last Friday at home against Grandview.
The Warriors rebounded Wednesday night with a convincing 53-16 homecourt victory over Cherokee Trail and find themselves at 6-1 (15-1 overall) and trailing Grandview by one game at the halfway point of the Centennial League race ahead of a key Friday matchup at third-place Cherry Creek.
“It definitely motivated us to work even harder,’’ Buechler said of the 65-48 setback to the Wolves. “I think the loss was good for us, going in 14-0. We definitely learned a lot from that loss. I think it was one of the best games they’ve ever played, and we really didn’t play up to their level.’’
Arapahoe’s depth and constant defensive pressure were no match for Cherokee Trail (8-8, 3-4) and easily offset a two-point second quarter that coach Jerry Knafelc attributed to “a little bit of a hangover’’ from the Grandview game. The Warriors shot 1-of-12, committed six turnovers and squandered almost half of a 14-2 lead after the first quarter (16-9 at the break).
“It was a pretty short discussion at halftime: have them go out and shoot baskets,’’ Knafelc said. “We got good-looking shots; we just missed them. They relaxed a little as soon as we knocked the lid off.’’
Buechler got it going, draining a 3-pointer on the first possession of the second half. Arapahoe scored 22 unanswered points before the Cougars, who missed their first 11 shots of the period to go with nine turnovers, finally broke through with a rebound follow with 14.5 seconds left in the third quarter.
Buechler, who was scoreless in the first half, finished with a team-high points. Karlyn Johnson had six of her eight points in the third quarter. Stacie Lukasiewicz also had eight points and Kera Riley added seven.
Johnson got into early foul trouble for the second straight game – she played just five minutes against Grandview – a disturbing and uncharacteristic trend for the 5-11 senior. “She’s never been that kind of player, but she’ll fix that,’’ Knafelc said. “She was a big difference against Grandview. It hurt us defensively because of the matchups, and offensively, too. As you saw, she came in and was ind of a catalyst tonight.’’
Despite its cold second quarter, Arapahoe shot 40 percent from the floor, an improvement from the 35 percent against Grandview in its second-lowest scoring game of the season (37-35 win over Cherry Creek where missed free throws down the stretch made it close).
But defense is what makes Arapahoe go, and a young Cherokee Trail squad (one senior saw court time Wednesday) seemed overwhelmed. The Cougars made one field goal in each quarter. They shot 13.8 percent from the floor and committed 38 turnovers. Junior point guard Hannah Sparks, the leading scorer at 12.7, went scoreless until the final minute, and senior Nikki Duresky (9.5 average) had four points. Cherokee Trail managed to work the ball inside when not turning it over, but couldn’t get shots to fall against Arapahoe’s trio of 6-3 Mikaela Moore, 6-3 Savanah Nedlson and 6-2 Molly Reidel (10 rebounds).
“You play a game like that, the score doesn’t matter. You’ve just got to go out and play your defense as hard as you can and pretend like it’s a close game,’’ Buechler said. “That’s just going to make you better.’’
Knafelc’s assessment of Arapahoe at the midpoint of the Centennial League season?
“Maybe a little better than I figured, but we have a lot of areas we need to improve,’’ he said. “When we’re clicking, we’re doing great. It’s just that we need to get that click going for 32 minutes instead of 16 or 24.’’