Let’s put it this way: It was a game where the starters did a lot of rooting from the bench, and the second team saw a lot of action.
Nine games into the basketball season few teams have been able to keep up with the 6-2 Lady Sand Devils. One of the most commonly bantered sports clichés is “Defense wins championships!” and, yes, that is true, but a more apt saying should be, “Conditioning wins championships.”
And the Lady Sand Devils have it in spades.
The Lady Sand Devils have played in the championship game three out of the last four years, and they were crowned champions in two of those championship games.
In all of those years they were skilled on both offense and defense, and they had some very talented athletes, but it was often their conditioning that gave them that final edge over their opponents.
This tradition of highly conditioned athletes was started by former girls basketball head coach Justin Smith and has been continued under the current head coach Ryan Whitehorse.
The Lady Sand Devils high level of fitness and conditioning was on full display last Friday night and it played a key role in their victory over the Pinon Eagles.
Coach Whitehorse runs a full-court defense that begins from the tip-off and doesn’t relent until the game’s final buzzer. Such a defense involves a lot of crouching and lateral, fast-paced movement that will have ordinary quadriceps burning and twitching in minutes. But for the Lady Sand Devils such quad-burning, fast-twitch-muscle-blasting conditioning occurs nearly every practice as part of their normal workout.
Due to the non-stop press, the Sand Devils wear down their opponents both physically and mentally sometime in the third quarter, in most cases.
Another factor in the Sand Devils success so far this season is their leadership. Seniors Myka Taliman and Mikala Benally are obvious team leaders when they step onto the court. Taliman has been the Lady Sand Devils point guard since her sophomore year and both she and Benally were starters during last year’s championship season. When they’re on the court they take ownership of the game.
The Sand Devils also have several new players making a splash this year. The team is getting some good minutes from Ashlyn Adakai, Amy Yellowman, Neve Redhair, Camryn Nockideneh, Melinda Calnimptewa, Meagan Fuller, Torrance Begay and Miquedah Taliman, the younger sister of Myka. Miquedah, who is just a freshman, already shows impressive ball-handling ability and she has a deadly three-point shot, something the team is going to need when they play teams with a strong inside defense.
In last Friday’s game the Eagles managed to stay with the Sand Devils until halfway through the first quarter keeping the game tied at six, but a two-point shot from Miquedah Taliman gave them a two-point advantage and from that point on the Sand Devils began to pull away from the Eagles. They led 10-8 at the end of the first quarter and 31-13 at halftime.
Myka Taliman was playing on a level far above the Eagles Friday and she put on a clinic in the opening minutes of the third quarter, hitting a floater in the paint, followed by a three pointer, and another two-pointer from inside, all while stealing the ball from the Eagles on the defensive end.
The younger Taliman, Miquedah, went on a similar offensive tear to close out the third quarter and open the fourth quarter hitting back to back three-pointers and a two-point layup with an assist from Benally.
The Sand Devils led 48-19 at the end of the third quarter and finished the game leading 61-23.
The Sand Devils will play in the Las Vegas Holiday Classic during Christmas break, this Thursday thru Saturday.
Their next home game in Friday, Jan. 4 against Sedona.