SALADO — Kaia Philen scored 20 points and the Salado girls basketball team collected another win after taking down the McGregor Lady Bulldogs 40-33 on the final day of the Coach Smith Memorial Tournament on Saturday afternoon.
The Lady Eagles (2-5) had a slow start as they were down by three halfway through the first quarter before sophomore guard Philen sank a 3-pointer.
Defensively, junior guard Lexie Lima had early steals that kept McGregor off the board before senior Kate Kyburz sent McKennah Worthington to the free-throw line and the Lady Bulldogs (1-6) pulled ahead 6-4 at the end of the first quarter.
Salado evened the score early in the second quarter before McGregor went on a 7-0 run. Lima (12 points) hit a pair of 3-pointers to bring Salado within two.
At the half, Salado trailed by one behind a 3-pointer from junior forward Corban Mescher.
“I’ve been telling all the coaches here that the girls teams here at this tournament are extremely tough and that’s what we need going into our district,” Salado girls’ head coach Diane Konarik said.
The biggest growth she has seen in her team is their “mental toughness, their fight, their heart, their determination to finish a game and not just settle.
“When we’re down, we’re still going to fight and we’re going to give it our all,” Konarik said.
The Lady Eagles brought the defensive pressure following the halftime break as Philen and freshman guard Amanda Cantu double-teamed a McGregor defender before Philen went for the steal.
Philen connected with senior forward Kayla Manning in the low post to put Salado up by one.
McGregor freshman forward Audrey Lillard, who led her team with 18 points, quickly answered and the Lady Bulldogs took back the lead.
On the next play, Cantu found Philen on the perimeter, and she drove in to give the Lady Eagles the lead once more.
Lillard answered again before Philen gave Salado a two-point lead after dropping another 3-pointer late in the quarter.
Lillard followed her score with a steal from the right side of Lady Dog senior guard Alli Ainsworth and scored on a layup to push the Lady Eagles further ahead and cause McGregor to use their first full timeout.
With seconds left in the third quarter, senior guard Danielle McDaniel came out of the huddle with a block, steal and an assist to Philen for another 3-pointer.
Salado led 29-24 going into the fourth quarter.
Philen started the final period for the Lady Eagles with a 3-pointer followed by a steal on the next play.
Manning scored on an offensive rebound under the rim to give the Lady Eagles their largest lead of the game at 10 points.
Just two minutes into the fourth quarter, Lima put another three points on the board for the Lady Eagles and Ainsworth turns around and sank one of her own.
“It’s going to be a tough district,” Konarik said, “and I think it was great practice for us.
“It was frustrating because we didn’t win the games we wanted to, but it’s perfect going into our season.”