HIGHLANDS RANCH — There is more than one formula when it comes to surviving in the Class 5A girls basketball tournament. On Tuesday night, Highlands Ranch used a defensive formula that was aimed at limiting shot opportunities for Fairview.
The Falcons were balanced in their scoring effort and held the Knights five total field goals to get a 45-26 win and advance to Friday's Great 8 at the Denver Coliseum. It's there that the Falcons will meet Continental League rival Regis Jesuit.
Seeing the same defensive effort from her team on Friday would make Highlands Ranch coach Caryn Jarocki very happy.
"We asked the kids to have hot hands on the shooters and know where their shooter was and know which ones were the shooters," Jarocki said. "They did a really good job of recognizing who could shoot the three."
But it wasn't just guarding the 3-pointers that helped the Falcons (20-5) come away victorious. It was actually Fairview that scored the first basket of the game as Kailey Page made a nice move inside to get the Knights (16-10) up early.
That's when everyone clamped down, from Payton Muma on the perimeter to Taylor Ray and Alex Pirog inside. Fairview didn't score another field goal until there were just 57 seconds left on the clock in the second quarter.
"When we get down we just have to get pushing and talking," Ray said. "We know our rotation so we just have to make sure they don't score again."
Offensively, the Falcons were almost as good. Muma had everything going right from attacking the basket and kicking the ball out to finding her inside players cutting to the hoop and getting them the ball.
"With (Fairview) playing up tight on us, the posts were open," Muma said. "Sometimes they'd get doubled and have to kick it out. Ball movement and rotation was very important."
It was Sarah Mitchell getting the early looks for Highlands Ranch. She scored six of her eight points in the first quarter. Pirog scored a game-high 10 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.
Neither team even knocked down a 3-pointer until there was 1:46 on the clock in the second. It was Muma connecting on it to help the Falcons build a 25-10 lead at halftime.
The Knights looked re-energized in the third and even cut the lead to 11 thanks a 3-pointer from Adaya Richmond and a basket from Emma Novak.
But like much of the first half, the Falcons clamped down in the fourth, not allowing a field goal and limiting the Knights to just five points.
"We know that defense wins," Jarocki said. "Sometimes isn't always there or isn't very good so we have to be able to stay in games by playing defense."
An effort like that is good enough to punch a ticket to the Great 8 at the Coliseum. The Falcons have made the Great 8 now for the sixth consecutive year.
A 58-51 win over Broomfield advanced Regis Jesuit to the same spot and the league rivals are now set for their second showdown of the year. Regis Jesuit claimed a 37-35 overtime win on Feb. 18.
If Highlands Ranch is going to advance to another Final 4, they'll have to match their defensive effort from Tuesday at the very least.
"It's extremely crucial," Ray said. "We just have to rotate and talk on defense and make sure Avery Vansickle doesn't shoot anything."