Clovis High’s girls were on the ropes for a time Friday night, but as usual the Lady Wildcats owned the second half.
Clovis made a subtle switch to a zone defense and began to crank it up on offense as well, shooting 58 percent over the final two stanzas to pull away from plucky West Mesa 66-50 in a first-round Class 5A state tournament game at Rock Staubus Gym.
The third-seeded Lady Cats (24-4), winning their 15th in a row and 20th in the last 21 games, move on to the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho for a 9:45 a.m. quarterfinal on Tuesday against 11th-seeded Cibola, a 51-45 upset winner at Las Cruces High on Friday night.
Clovis rallied from a five-point deficit to take a 27-26 halftime lead on junior Tiffany Nichols’ rebound basket as time ran out, and never trailed again. The Lady Cats used a 9-0 run late in the third quarter, capped by senior guard Jadee Isler’s 3-pointer, to open an 11-point margin.
West Mesa (12-16), making its second consecutive state appearance after not going in 30 years prior, never got closer than after that.
“We didn’t play our best game early,” said Isler, who finished with 14 points — 10 in the second half — and four assists. “Our shots weren’t falling and they were staying with us. Coach (Jeff) Reed told us (at halftime) to stop jacking the ball up and get it inside more.”
Junior post Antiesha Brown finished with 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field, while senior guard Brittany Johnson added 13 points. Brown also led the team with nine rebounds.
“We had a chance to put them away in the first quarter, but we weren’t taking advantage of it,” Reed said. “Finally, we got some momentum at halftime when Tiffany put in that buzzer-beater, and the ball started going our way.”
The athletic Mustangs got virtually all of their scoring from senior guard Latisha Adams, who finished with 26 points, and senior forward Stephanie Espinoza, who had 19.
“My girls really put up a good effort,” fifth-year West Mesa coach Brett Jones said. “We had some lapses with turnovers, and we’re just not deep enough to overcome that.”
The Mustangs finished with 27 turnovers, 11 of them coming in the final period, which pretty much ended any chance of a comeback.
“The second quarter I felt it was going pretty well,” Jones said. “Then one of my girls (Espinoza) picked up a really silly foul.”
The Mustangs led 23-18 when Espinoza went to the bench with her third personal. Clovis outscored West Mesa 9-3 the rest of the half, capped by Nichols’ rebound of a blocked 3-point try by Isler.
Isler said the Lady Cats were aware of Adams, but not really anyone else.
“They had two or three other girls that were pretty good,” Isler said. “We had to adjust to that.”
Clovis shot 15-of-26 from the field in the second half, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, after going 2-of-14 from behind the arc in the opening half.