Vista Girls Lose Big Lead, Still Come Out Winners, 68-65

Vista Murrieta forward Brittney Reed (32) led her team with 18 points in the Broncos' playoff victory Saturday night. Photos by Dan...

Vista Murrieta forward Brittney Reed (32) led her team with 18 points in the Broncos' playoff victory Saturday night.
Photos by Daniel Millhouse

By Daniel Millhouse

Even though it had a 21-point lead halfway through the third quarter, the Vista Murrieta High School girls basketball team had to hold on for a 68-65 win against Harvard-Westlake Saturday night in the first round of the CIF-SS Open Division playoffs.

With 2:10 left in the game, Harvard-Westlake battled all the way back to tie the game up at 65 when Sydney Tsutsui hit her fifth 3-pointer of the quarter. It took three free throws by senior forward Brittney Reed to seal the victory for the Broncos.

"Sometimes it’s harder to play with a lead than it is coming from behind," Vista Murrieta coach Kurt Ruth said about Harvard-Westlake’s near comeback. "When you’re coming from behind, you’ve got nothing to lose. You’re fighting for your life."

Broncos senior Jaelyn Brown (photo below) put things into perspective after the game.

"We relaxed a little too much," Brown said about her team’s play during the Harvard-Westlake comeback. "We have to do a better job in the future to not let them (their opponents) come back in it."

Both teams had several chances each to take the lead, but the Broncos held on due to clutch defense.

Vista Murrieta (26-2) had a chance to retake the lead with just under two minutes left when Harvard-Westlake fouled Reed. In the bonus, Reed hit the first free throw, but missed the second, giving the Broncos a 66-65 lead. The Broncos quickly got the ball back with 1:34 and a chance to make it a two-possession game, but Brown was called for a travel violation.

Harvard-Westlake (19-9) had a chance to take the lead when sophomore Jayda Ruffus-Milner was sent to the foul line while her team was also in the bonus. She missed the first throw, giving Vista Murrieta the ball.

After both teams took possession of the ball, the visiting Wolverines found themselves with the ball, but in a moment of disarray. Harvard-Westlake coach Melissa Hearlihy called timeout with 42 seconds left in the game and 18 seconds left on the shot clock.

Not aware that the shot clock was down to 18 seconds, Harvard-Westlake was caught off guard when the buzzer alerted referees to the shot clock violation. With 21 seconds left in the game, the Wolverines were forced to foul Reed. Still in the bonus, Reed sank both free throws to give her team a 68-65 lead.

Harvard-Westlake had another chance to tie it up, when Keilanei Cooper stole the ball and was fouled with 12.9 seconds left. Now in the double-bonus, Cooper missed both free throws.

With Harvard-Westlake trying to find an open shooter to take one last 3-pointer, Cooper stole the ball again with .1 seconds left on the clock and was fouled in the process. She missed both free throws,giving Vista Murrieta the victory and stunning the visiting fans of Harvard-Westlake.

"She (Cooper) has a wing span of—," Brown described her teammate while stretching her arms out wide. "She has a long wingspan, so that defensive ability is just great."

The Broncos dominated the game early, quickly scoring in short bursts that gave them the lead. Cooper scored the first four points of the game and was involved in the next two points with an assist to Nasrin Ulel’s layup.

Entering the game from the bench with a couple of minutes left in the first quarter, Brown came into the game for the first time this season, returning from serious injury. Within her first 75 seconds of stepping onto the court, Brown made her presence felt when she drilled a 3-pointer, scored two more points on a fast break layup ,then grabbed an offensive rebound which she dished to Reed for a layup.

After one quarter of play, Vista Murrieta led 19-11.

Cooper stepped up in the second quarter, scoring 11 points and providing strong defense with a steal. Behind her, the Broncos added to their lead and at halftime the score was 38-25. Vista Murrieta had moments of quick scoring in the third quarter, which bolstered their lead. Ulel hit two 3-pointers in 10 seconds with just over six minutes left in the quarter, getting the fans on their feet.

Later in the same quarter, Reed scored twice within another 10 -econd stretch halfway through the third quarter to give her team a 54-33 lead.

It was then when the Wolverines clawed their way all the way back with 2:10 remaining in the game. They held the Broncos to only 14 more points within last 12 minutes of the game.

Vista Murrieta will face Windward High of Los Angeles in the second round on Wednesday at a site to be determined.

Notable Vista Murrieta performances include Reed’s 18 points, even with an injury scare in the fourth quarter that forced her to sit out for a couple of minutes, Cooper’s 17 points and stellar defense, and Ulel’s 16 points.

"Brittney (Reed) goes down and honestly we’ve lost two games all year and one of them was when Brittney was out the last couple of minutes of the game," commented on Reed’s injury in the fourth quarter. "We’re a different team when she’s not out on the court."

Harvard-Westlake was led by Tsutsui, who scored 23 points, which included hitting seven 3-pointers, and Jordan Brown, who scored 19 points, including three 3-pointers.

Vista Murrieta coach Kurt Ruth instructs his players during a timeout in Saturday's game.




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