GATOR WINTER CLASSIC: Motivated Wildcats win thrice, claim crown

Las Vegas High’s girls basketball team nearly didn’t have to worry about a championship game Saturday.

The Wildcats trailed Rancho 26-16 at halftime of their quarterfinal game of the Gator Winter Classic and had their starters on the bench.

It was a motivational tactic by Wildcat first-year coach LaShonda Rayford, and it worked like a charm.

Las Vegas rallied to beat Rancho, then won its semifinal before downing Westchester (Calif.), 62-58 in the title game at Green Valley.

“It feels really good. Not necessarily because of the win, but because I’ve been trying to get them to compete and step up their level,” Rayford said. “I told them it didn’t matter if we went 0-7 or 7-0, what I’m looking for is the fire. I want them to learn how to compete, how to step it up and take it to them—not sit back and let them take it to us.”

Tournament Most Valuable Player Shomari Harris had 23 points, and Matti Ventling added nine points to lead the Wildcats past Westchester. Both also applied heavy pressure on defense.

 “I absolutely think Shomari earned it,” Rayford said. “She earned it from day one up to this point. I’ll tell anybody in the world, I feel in my heart I have the best point guard in this city — in this state, for that matter, and that’s no disrespect to anybody else. We’re going to put the ball in her hands whether we’re up or down; we’re going to go with her. I trust her and believe in her.”

Las Vegas used a 21-10 run to start the second half to break a 33-all tie and give the Wildcats some cushion.

Shaleea Butler chipped in 12 points for Las Vegas.

The benching in the first day of the game probably helped the Wildcats beyond just motivation. It gave the starters some rest.

“I tell them all the time it doesnt matter who we play, why we play them or where we play them: Every game is important and our goal is to win every game,” Rayford said. “This is really the first time all year we’ve been challenged on a different level — seven games in four days is not easy.”

Freshman Taylor Jackson led the Comets with 18 points.

Among those named to the all-tournament team were Ventling, Green Valley’s Maggie Manwarren and Rancho’s Tatianna Lee.

Las Vegas 54, Rancho 48 — Harris scored 24 points, and the Wildcats erased the 10-point halftime deficit to defeat the Rams in the semifinals.

Ventling scored 13 points and supplied excellent defense in the second half.

Kanosha Grey had 15 points for Rancho, and teammate Darje Martin added 11 points.

Las Vegas 53, Del Sol 44 — Ventling scored 19 points, and Harris supplied 12 points to help the Wildcats defeat the Dragons.

Chloe Cabanas had 13 points, and Brittany Collins scored 11 points to pace the Dragons. 

Westchester (Calif.) 54, Green Valley 51 — Ahtenna Jones scored 17 points, and Destinee Brown added 12 points to help the Comets fend off the Gators.

Maggie Manwarren scored 19 points to lead the Gators, who got 14 points from Ellee Barton.

Westchester (Calif.) 76, Cheyenne 30 — Taylor Jackson scored 21 points, and Brown added 18 points as the Comets soared past the Desert Shields.

Dana Smith supplied 10 points for Westchester, which outscored Cheyenne 19-2 in the first quarter.

Bria Buchanan led the way for Cheyenne with nine points. 

Green Valley 57, Rancho 50 — Manwarren, Rianna Rudolph and Barton each scored 10 points as the Gators defeated the Rams to earn third place in the tournament.

LaKissa Martin paced Rancho with 13 points, and Grey and Darje Martin each added 10 points.

Green Valley 57, White Pine 47 — Manwarren scored 19 points to lead the Gators over the Bobcats.

Meiko Taylor added 11 points for Green Valley, which led 17-4 after the first quarter.

Bailey Moore led the Bobcats with 16 points, and teammate Amanda Allred scored 11.

Rancho 49, Needles 26 — Grey scored 17 points to help the Rams tame the Mustangs.

LaKissa Martin supplied 12 points, and Darje Martin added 10 points for the Rams.

Abby Chandler paced the Mustangs with 12 points.