Before the season began Mira Costa head coach Craig Takahashi preached the importance of free throw shooting for his young squad.
Thursday Night’s first round CIF playoff game was essentially decided at the line. Although it was more about the Jordan Panthers woes at the charity stripe, the Mustangs got a pair of clutch free throws from one of the nations best to help secure the 56-51 win.
“It’s a huge win for us. First year in 1AA it feels good to get past the first round,” senior point guard Kylie Nakamine said.
The Mustangs watched a 13-point lead slowly evaporate as the Panther’s full-court trap and out-of-bounds defense wreaked havoc leading to a staggering 28 Mustang turnovers.
“We couldn’t get the ball past half court, there were a lot of nerves showing there,” Takahashi said.
Late in the fourth, up 53-48 Mira Costa’s best inbounder, Nakamine, had her inbounds pass stolen by Armani Wiley who was promptly called for traveling and then chucked the ball out of the gym, eliciting a technical foul call.
“That technical was key, I got to sit down and relax for those two,” Takahashi said.
Nakamine a 93% free-throw shooter stepped calmly to the line as she has all year and sank both technical foul shots.
“Nervous? No, not really,” Nakamine said with a smile.
Why should she be? But, the ultra-reliable captain did admit to a bit of jitters when the team’s lead was cut in half.
“I was a little worried, we were up by so much and it was getting close,” Nakamine said.
Nakamine, who was a perfect 7-7 at the line on the night was unaffected by the spotty shooting around her as the Panthers struggled mightily shooting just 46% from the line (17-37).
“The beauty tonight was they didn’t make their free throws, if they shoot 60% even they win the game,” Takahashi said.
Wiley drove the length of the floor and knocked down a shot for two of her game-high 24 points to pull Jordan within four with 10 seconds remaining at 55-51, but would get no closer.
“We didn’t handle the press well. In the second half they denied us more and we have to be more physical,” Nakamine said.
The Mustangs overcame a brutal stretch to begin the second half as both teams combined for only 7 points in the first 6:15 of the half.
An Ashley Reese put-back and ensuing steal and hoop from Camille Mills gave the Mustangs some separation at 32-26.
Joelle Herron who had an excellent offensive night with 21 points scored on a crafty up-and-under move and Nakamine closed the quarter out with a rare four-point play coming with three seconds left in the third.
“We have a tendency to make runs and look great, then give it all right back,” Takahashi said of his teams 10-3 run.
“In the past we have lost some playoff games on shots like that, it was nice to get a few to go for us this time around,” Takahashi said.
Jordan was lead by Armani Wiley’s game-high 24 points with Amber Washington adding 11 for the Panthers.
The Mustangs are rewarded for their efforts with a visit from Brea Olinda undefeated (25-0) and ranked number one in the country.
“We get one more game here, there is nothing to lose. We know Brea is a phenomenal team and we’re going to try to play our best,” Takahashi said.
Joining Herron in double figures was Nakamine with 14 and Reese with 10.
“We have to come out even stronger than tonight, limit our turnovers and handle the pressure better,” Herron said.