Shayla

Junior Shayla O'Neil shoots a free throw in Perry's 70-55 victory over Sandra Day O'Connor.

The Perry girls ended their final home game of the 2019-20 season with a victory Thursday, as the Pumas defeated Sandra Day O’Connor 70-55 in the quarterfinal round of the 6A basketball playoffs.

Perry came out hot on defense, utilizing a full-court press to force O’Connor into errant passes and turnovers. From there, the Pumas used their advantage in size and finishing ability to score in transition at the hoop. They took an early lead, and never let up.

“We have really good facilitators. They know where to look and the bigs know how to get open. So the drop-offs, the shooters on the outside, everything’s open when we run our offense the way we’re supposed to,” Perry junior Jayden James said.

While the offense was clicking, and the defense was causing turnovers in the backcourt, O’Connor was able to hit several three-pointers to keep the game close. Eagle freshman Mak Snyder hit a buzzer-beating three from college range to close the gap to just five points at the half. It would end up being the closest the Eagles got the rest of the way.

“The first half we just lost track of some of the shooters and they made us pay,” said Perry coach Andrew Curtis. “So we just tightened it up. There wasn’t some big change, it was just about doing it.”

The small adjustments seemed to work.

“Our game plan initially was to switch when we were in man defense. We’re getting there with talking and rotating, but it wasn’t the best. So he basically told us to get back into doing that, and we started doing better there,” James said.

The Eagles still hit a few jumpers in the second half to make it competitive, but Perry hit free throws down the stretch and the final outcome was hardly ever in question.

Most of Perry’s main contributors are juniors, and thus have another year left to play, but the effort constituted a victory in the Pumas’ final home game of the season, and was means for some elation. Curtis gave the team a congratulatory speech, and players dumped a bucket of water on him in celebration.

“It was just big to take another step in the progress of the program,” Curtis said, wiping the moisture from his hair. “This is the first time we’ve been to the semifinals, and we’re just trying to leave a little legacy.”

Perry will travel to Surprise to take on No. 1 Valley Vista on the road in the semifinal on Feb. 26. The two teams faced off last in December, and the Monsoon won 46-35. Curtis knows to win this time will take a tremendous effort. But, the focus, at least for a night, will be on rejoicing Thursday’s victory.

“At 12:01 I’ll go to thinking about Valley Vista,” he said. “We’ll enjoy this until then.”

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