Good times are slowing coming to reality for a Desert Vista girls basketball team that has been missing out.
The Thunder looked the part to begin the MLK Basketball Classic on Monday afternoon at Wells Fargo arena with a terrific shooting and defensive performance to beat Mountain View, 67-51.
The Thunder were No. 22 in the power rankings entering the game but figure to move up with a couple more winnable games, plus Mountain Pointe and Xavier left in the final 10 days of the regular season.
Since the Jan. 11 loss to Mountain Pointe, the same night Desert Vista coach Jaysie Sheppard-Chambers eventually lost her job after an altercation and JV coach Jontar Coleman took over, the Thunder beat Sandra Day O'Connor and Mountain View, and lost to Chandler by two points.
On Monday, the Thunder had 41 points by halftime by sharing the ball, hitting 3-pointers and transition baskets and forcing Mountain View into a dozen first-half turnovers.
Coleman cited his team's 8 a.m. shootaround at schools, followed by an early entrance to Wells Fargo Arena Monday morning for more shooting, and then the typical pregame shootaround for help in adjusting to a drastically different environment.
"They shot the ball so well," Mountain View coach Henry Bribiescas said. He noted watching tape of his 2007 Toros team face Red Mountain in this same tournament and the near-80 percent first-half shooting Mountain View enjoyed in that game.
"I felt (Desert Vista) had the same kind of night," he said.
Redemption was in order for 6-foot-4 sophomore forward Kristine Anigwe, who showed her agility, athleticism and shooting touch all day. She controlled the paint and the glass both offensively and defensively for Desert Vista. She shared team-high honors with 17 points along with guard Emily Wolph, whose scoring, ball-handling and running of the offense was superb off the bench.
Anigwe didn't play in the 57-55 loss to Chandler and it's hard not to wonder if she would have been the difference.
She certainly was against the Toros.
"She shot lights-out, and if she didn't block a shot she'd intimidate them," Bribiescas said.
Anigwe had a double-double by halftime, while Wolph hit three 3-pointers in the first half. Already leading 41-27 at halftime, Jayla Brown had a big second half (10 points) and Mountain View never got within single digits after halftime.
Already shorthanded by significant injuries, Mountain View had trouble getting into any kind of offensive rhythm. The Thunder's pressure and quick hands in the backcourt only made Mountain View's day worse, as Toros' standout Armani Hawkins was held to 12 points (two in the second half). Sabrina Haines (14 points) was the only other Toro to provide any kind of offensive production.
"Defense is key and it's cliche but it'll win championships," Coleman said with his four children in tow. "Eventually it'll come second nature and if it does we can go far in the playoffs."
As for the Toros, they entered the day at No. 13 in the power rankings and fell to 10-3 in those contests, but without much (or any) help from injured point guard Rene Coggins the rest of the season, Bribiescas' team has relied on a collection of sophomores to try and fill the void, and it's been an inconsistent journey thus far.
Desert Vista knows a thing or two about trials and especially tribulations, and the Thunder are hoping they're on the other side of that bride for a change, and for good.
"They're loving basketball right now," Coleman said. "If I can keep their heads and spirits up, we can be a force to be reckoned with in the next couple weeks."
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.