July 10, 2020
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Cougars survive onslaught, hang on for NBL Title

By: Paul Matli
February 14, 2020

Shot goes up, swish. Maria Carrillo for three, it’s good, and another three is good. Timeout Rancho Cotate. This is how the showdown of the season started for the Rancho Cotate Cougars. After beating the Maria Carrillo Pumas last month at home, the Pumas tried to put the Cougars out of their misery early. Behind an early three-point barrage, tough defense and missed shots by Rancho, the Pumas led by nine points at the end of the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Pumas, that was the only success they enjoyed.

Behind 19 points and 16 rebounds from Keyonee Neal, 17 points from Jada Buckley and key adjustments by Head Coach Mario Newton, the Rancho Cotate Cougars rallied from as much as 12 down in the first quarter to win 58-55, to clinch the regular season North Bay League title.

In a game of this magnitude, it makes sense for the home team to start off on fire. The Pumas seemed to have made adjustments against the Cougars’ zone press since the last time they played. The Pumas shredded the Cougars’ zone to the tone of 18 first quarter points. This is when Coach Newton made the game-winning adjustment.

“We were in our zone press and we didn’t have all cylinders running, we didn’t have five players moving at the same time out there,” Newton said. “We adjusted to a man-to-man defense to take away their easy threes. Once we adjusted and took away their corner threes, it was a different game.”

The key player behind the Cougars come back was Tatum Maytorena. Newton put Maytorena on the Pumas’ two primary ball handlers and she shut them down. Maytorena didn’t shoot the ball like she wanted, but she used her quickness to get in the heads of the Pumas’ guards and was the key cog in the Cougars’ second quarter engine. The Cougars outscored the Pumas 22-11 and led by two going into halftime. Newton credited Maytorena for the tenacious defense she played.

“Tatum’s defense was stellar, she was the key because she was locking up their point guards and played amazing defense on them,” Newton said. “She was the person who gave us a defensive spark in the second quarter.”

Tuesday’s game proved that defense does win championships. Without tightening the screws defensively, the Cougars wouldn’t be league champions right now.

Another player who probably goes unnoticed by many people because of her height is Jada Buckley. At just 4’10” she’s the smallest player on the court most nights. Though she’s the smallest player on the court, that didn’t stop her from being the Cougars’ x-factor. Buckley not only had 17 points and 3 threes, she had multiple offensive rebounds. 

The most demoralizing thing for a defense is when the smallest player on the court keeps getting rebounds. Buckley’s offensive rebounds gave the Cougars extra possessions and had an effect on the Pumas.

“Jada was just playing aggressive,” Newton said. “What she was doing was watching the ball and going to get the rebounds. She actually out jumped some of the girls, she wanted it, played really, really hard and stepped up big for us in this game.

Buckley and Neal weren’t the only ones rebounding, it was the whole team. Rebounding is all about effort, positioning and desire. Once the Cougars got down they out hustled the Pumas and scored many points off of their second and third opportunities. Being able to rebound will be key for the Cougars in the bigger games like the North Coast Section Playoffs.

Newton also praised the work of his ball handlers saying they did a great job against Carrillo’s aggressive defense and distributing the ball when necessary. Naomi Duport also had a solid game for the Cougars making 3 three pointers in the first half to keep the Cougars afloat early on. This was the type of game where every girl contributed something, and these are the types of games every coach and parent loves.

The next step for the Cougars is a game against El Molino Thursday and then the postseason. This is the last regular season game of the year and it’s a home game so community members should come out to support the girls as the game starts at 7:30 p.m. 

Newton knows the postseason will be an important steppingstone for the team as they are looking to build off last year’s second round loss to the Montgomery Vikings in the NCS Playoffs.

“Last year we were the sixth seed in NCS, won our first game and then played number three seed Montgomery,” Newton said. “We lost by 20, but we battled them basket for basket in the second half. Last year was the first time the women have ever reached the second round of the NCS. We’re hoping to do well again this season.”