Neuqua Valley's press was so effective against host and District 204 rival Metea Valley on Friday that at times the Wildcats seemed to have more than five players on the court.
The Neuqua guards repeatedly stole the ball and that led to transition baskets on the other end that helped the visitors to a 71-47 girls basketball victory over the Mustangs in Aurora.
"It was our first conference game and we just prepared mentally," said Kai Moon, who led a balanced Wildcats scoring attack with 16 points including 4 from 3-point range. "We went over a new press in practice. We played three-quarter court and got up in their faces. And that makes it hard to see the floor. We wait for them to make the bad pass and then we swoop. The steals create 3-on-1 situations that we can convert."
"We made some adjustments in our defense this week because of all the fouls that are being called this year," said Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams. "We played a little softer and more patient and filled the passing lanes on our press. Our quickness can frustrate people. We can also rotate our guards. If we take one out, another hits the 3, or another drives."
The game started well for the Mustangs (5-2, 0-1 Upstate Eight Valley). They led 8-4 in the first quarter before the Wildcats (5-2, 1-0) reeled off nine straight points to close the period.
In the second quarter the Wildcats were up 25-19 and then they practically closed out the game with a 13-point spree fueled by turnovers and sparked by two of Moon's 3-pointers that made it 38-19 at halftime.
During that period the Mustangs had three starters on the bench in foul trouble.
"We're not experienced enough to have three starters on the bench," said Metea Valley coach Kris Kalivas.
Neuqua scored the first six points of the third quarter, making it 19 unanswered points.
"We came out fired up and ready to play," Moon said. "We wanted to win, so we just came out and ran as fast as we can. Teams don't run with us a lot."
Niki Lazar and Miya Starks scored 12 each for the Wildcats. Najee Smith added 9 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals, and her sister Malia Smith stole the ball five times. Kellee Clay led the Mustangs with 13 points.
"It goes back to execution," Kalivas said. "They beat us in the little things. We didn't box out and that gave them second chances. We didn't get back on defense."
Kalivas said her team just played scared.
"We took the court scared," she said. "We didn't want to handle the ball. We didn't make good passes. We weren't playing physical."