Page Sand Devils take the lead in Arizona 3A Conference Division with a win against rival Tuba City Warriors. The Sand Devils Division record now stands at 5-1 with an overall record of 12-3. They currently have a five-game win streak.
It was thunder and lightning when Tuba City took the court. The Warriors had a size advantage over the Sand Devils but the Sand Devils will to win overshadowed the Warriors’ height advantage.
The first quarter tested the Sand Devils as the Warriors took a seven-point lead five minutes into the game, turning steals into quick baskets. The Sand Devils were unable to regain the lead as the Warriors utilized their size advantage to outrebound the Sand Devils. The Sands Devils landed several ‘wow’ shots but were unable to adjust to the Warrior’s ability to re-adjust under pressure. The Warriors led 19-10 at the end of the first quarter.
Dainian Bitsinnie left the game at the end of the first quarter when he got tangled up with a Warrior and his head collided the Warriors’ knee, which caused a gash in his head.
After being bandaged Bitsinnie returned to the game about halfway through the second quarter.
In the second quarter Cheyenne Richardson pulled down some rebounds and hit some critical baskets. Lane Dempsey lit the defense on fire by rebounding under the pressure of the Warriors boxing him in. He hit the outlet pass to Jonah Larson who converted them into fast break baskets, including a beautiful reverse lay up.
The Warriors led 36 to 24 at halftime.
The Sand Devils returned from the break with high energy, hitting several open shots in the early minutes of the second half. They outscored the Warriors 12 to six in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was everything that was expected when the rival Warriors come to town. But experience and stamina were the key factors in the fourth quarter and the Warriors just didn’t have the steam to keep up with the Sand Devils.
The Warriors changed their tactics shifting from an inside game to a perimeter game, with the Warriors’ Tristan Yazzie landing several three-point shots.
Lane Dempsey also landed a three pointer which closed the Warriors’ lead to one.
A shooting foul put Bitsinnie at the free throw line. He hit both shots giving the Sand Devils a one point lead, their first lead of the game with two minutes left.
Bitsinnie rebounding a Warriors missed shot and passed it to Salabiye who added two more points on a layup.
The Sand Devils then ran a minute off the clock by keeping the ball in the front court. The Warriors had a chance to tie the game when they rebounded a shot missed by Dahntay Dugi, but the Warriors also missed their shot.
Bitsinnie added two more points from the free throw line which came after Warriors technical fouls giving the Sand Devils a five-point lead with just 15 seconds left.
The Sand Devils rebounded the ball after the Warriors missed their last shot attempt and Bistinnie walked it to the basket and added another two points.
The final score was Sand Devils 54, Tuba City 47.
Bitsinnie said after the game, “We knew they were a good team coming in but we just had to work hard, we were comfortable. This is what we play for, to get us ready for state.”
When asked about the last two minutes in possession of the ball, “I was just in the moment and doing what I had to do. The play was to hold the ball and wait for the open lay-up.”
Sand Devil’s Head Coach Russ Skubal was pleased with the win.
“We played horrible the first half and well the second half,” he said. “We knew Tristan Yazzie was a great player. We tried to face guard him, which took us out of our regular rotation. We gave up a lot of buckets and we just didn’t come out ready to play.
“In the second half we used a different player [to guard] Yazzie, but he shot deeper shots. We kept trying to stop them, and run a good offense. As we whittled away the[Warriors] started to panic and make mistakes. They shot some deep shots they shouldn’t have. Yazzie jacked a lot of deep points; I mean that’s who he is. But then he missed. We left them wide open.”
Regarding the final minutes of the game, Skubal said, “Bitsinnie came back and figured out what he needed to. They kept attacking the zones.”
This was the Sand Devils’ fifth straight win in a row. Arizona Rankings have elevated them to one of the top teams to beat in state. They’re 5-1 in their section and ranked no. 1 in the 3A North Division.
Skubal was proud of his team’s play Tuesday night.
“The big site we’re watching is the [Arizona Interscholastic Association]. They have us ranked tenth in the state and every win should move us up. We have experience under our belts its just a matter of the team showing up.”