A share of first place in the 5A Central Region slipped right through the collective hands of the Marcos de Niza boys basketball team Tuesday.
Turnovers kept the Padres behind region leader Desert Vista after a 53-49 loss to the Thunder at the Stormcenter.
The Padres' inability to handle Desert Vista's full-court, pressure defense cost them dearly as they committed 23 turnovers. Most came as guards Dubois Williams and Kal Bay tried to move the ball into the half court.
Marcos de Niza (19-5, 3-3) had seen the press in the teams' first meeting, a close victory by the Thunder (21-4, 5-1). But that experience didn't help the Padres Tuesday as they often looked confused.
"I was surprised,'' Thunder coach Al Merino said. "I figured they would work on their press offense.''
Key fourth-quarter turnovers created by Desert Vista helped the Thunder quickly erase what had been a 14 point deficit with one minute to go in the third quarter. Desert Vista scored six points in the final minute to cut the lead to 39-31 entering the final quarter.
The defensive pressure got even more intense in the final eight minutes. Marcos de Niza didn't score until Jon Ziri (10 points) made two free throws with 3:49 left. By that time Desert Vista had scored 10 straight points to take a 41-39 lead.
Chris Gray, who didn't play until the fourth quarter, scored twice in the Thunder's run giving them a big lift off the bench. He helped his team break out of what had been a horrible shooting game for three quarters. Desert Vista was 14-of-30 from the free-throw line.
"We played with intensity and some determination in that fourth quarter,'' Merino said. "You could see it when we took the lead. They were determined not to let them take it back.''
Xavier Kilby and Travis Gabbidon scored 19 of their combined 23 points in the second half as the Thunder rallied.
Desert Vista didn't take its first lead of the game, 41-39, until Mickey Wheeler hit a driving layup with 4:30 remaining.
The Thunder built a 51-45 lead, but four points in 12 seconds by Rusty Funk cut the lead to 51-49. Marcos then forced a turnover and, on a rare occasion, tried to get the basketball to its leading scorer, Ziri. He had his 3-point attempt blocked. A free throw each by Gabbidon and Kilby sealed the victory. Clinton Polk had 15 points to lead Desert Vista.
While the Desert Vista searched for its offense, Marcos broke out to an early 9-2 lead and late in the first half got its first double-digit lead at 24-13 when Funk scored on a put-back.
Bay led the Padres with 17 points.