Focus on free throws allows Palo Verde girls to hold off Legacy

Palo Verde girls basketball coach Phil Clarke put an increased focus on his team’s free-throw shooting this season.

The extra emphasis paid off Monday.

The Panthers survived a late rally by making 15 of 17 free throws, including 6 of 7 in the fourth quarter, to outlast visiting Legacy, 50-46 and improve to 13-1 in the Northwest League.

Palo Verde’s Lily Tapusoa led all scorers with 14 points, but it was the contest from the foul line that made the difference against the Longhorns (19-6, 9-5 Northwest).

“Free throws were huge for us,” Clarke said. “Two of our seniors going to the line with the game on the line, and they both came up big for us.”

As Nicole Ameli stepped to the line with 11 seconds remaining, the Panthers (19-6) were clinging to a 48-46 lead. But the senior guard calmly sank both free throws, finishing with 11 points and a 7-for-7 conversion at the line.

Palo Verde’s other senior guard, Alyssa Amoruso, knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead to 48-43 with 21 seconds left.

Legacy’s Ivionna Reece answered Amoruso’s free throws by draining a deep 3-pointer from the right wing with 14 seconds to play to set up Ameli’s foul shots that clinched the win for Palo Verde.

The Panthers led 14-13 after two free throws by Ameli with 1:08 left in the first quarter, but saw six lead changes before taking a 28-22 advantage into the break.

Palo Verde outscored Legacy 10-8 in the third quarter before stretching its lead to 46-37 on a put-back layup by Lily Tapusoa.

Tapusoa drew the unenviable assignment of battling formidable Longhorns posts Mikayla Hicks and Candice McFarland.

“We definitely couldn’t match up size-wise with them, which just showed the heart and fight of our girls,” Clarke said. “Lily is our starting post at (5 feet, 8 inches) but she plays so much bigger. She stepped up in guarding their bigs and her ballhandling skills allowed us to pull them outside.”

Tapusoa had eight points in the third quarter as the Panthers worked to establish themselves in the paint.

“They have strong posts, and coach Clarke just told me to be strong in there,” Tapusoa said. “But it was our hard work at the free-throw line that came through tonight as coach has been stressing to us to knock down the freebies.”

Hicks supplied 11 points and 16 rebounds for Legacy, which got 12 points and nine rebounds from McFarland.

Shakita Cox had 11 points for the Longhorns.

Jasmin Kiley added nine points and Amoruso scored eight for the Panthers.

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