A hush mushroomed over Skyline’s largest basketball crowd in some 10 months. Star guard Mattie Olson grimaced in pain, sitting under the Grizzlies’ basket, arms resting on her knees. Skyline nursed a seven-point lead over Blackfoot midway through the third quarter, but if this ankle injury was as serious as Olson’s limp made it seem, the hosts were in trouble.
Especially considering that the Grizzlies needed this Friday night win to tie the Broncos for the 4A District 6 lead.
“At first, it hurt really bad,” Olson said. “But this is one of the biggest games of the year, so I was like, ‘I’ve got to get back up and be there for my team.’”
She ducked into a back room with trainer Karissa Smith, who taped Olson’s ankle, and the junior guard returned to the bench 2 minutes and 33 seconds of game time later to similar circumstances. The Grizzlies still held a seven-point lead.
That goes a long way in explaining why Skyline topped Blackfoot, 61-49, generating a tie for the top spot in the conference standings as the postseason looms.
The Grizzlies (12-6, 6-1) didn’t miss a beat when their best player went down, which bears even more importance with district tournaments scheduled to start in just over a week.
Still, Blackfoot (14-5, 6-1) was never out of it.
Guard Esperanza Vergara recorded a game-high 21 points for Blackfoot, including 13 in the third quarter when the visitors made a push in Olson’s absence and drew as close as eight early in the fourth frame.
Thanks to Skyline’s frenetic pace and staunch defense, though, the run stopped there.
The Grizzlies followed with an and-one sequence from junior Tailer Thomas, and after layups from Sophie Anderson and Taylor, Skyline opened up a 15-point lead with three minutes left.
That 7-0 run rang the death knell for Blackfoot, which scored its lowest point total in conference play this season.
Just look at the numbers. The Broncos shot 33 percent from the field, including a 3-for-18 showing from distance, and they lost 13 turnovers. In the second quarter, they registered the same number of turnovers (6) as points. Junior Hadley Humperys, her team’s reliable interior force, totaled just nine points.
“I think they kind of controlled the tempo,” Blackfoot coach Raimee Odum said. “They dictated the game. It made us make some mistakes that were uncharacteristic for us. So it’s a good learning experience for us.”
That was never more noticeable than early on Friday night.
In the first half, Skyline’s defense made things tough on Blackfoot. The Broncos shot just 26 percent from the field, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers, and they coughed up 11 turnovers. Humpherys was relatively limited.
Still, the game was close. For the first 12 minutes, neither team created more than five points of separation until Taylor connected on a triple. Blackfoot responded with a putback from Kianna Wright, but then Taylor canned another trey, good for a 27-19 lead on the doorstep of halftime.
Olson closed things out for Skyline. On one trip, she knocked down two free throws, and on the next, she finished through contact. Blackfoot couldn’t get a shot off at the buzzer. The Grizzlies took a 31-19 lead into the intermission.
It amounted to an encouraging first 16 minutes for the Grizzlies, not only because of their double-digit lead, but also because they kept Humpherys from dealing the damage she usually does.
That’s another important reason why the conference leader entered halftime staring down the barrel of a long deficit.
An hour later, there were two conference leaders.
That spot usually isn’t so coveted, but in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 this season, officials have decided that if you win the conference, you maintain home-court advantage all the way through the district tournament.
Both Skyline and Blackfoot still have chances at securing it. Both teams have one conference game remaining.
The Grizzlies will visit Shelley on Tuesday, while on the same day, the Broncos will host Bonneville, which has shown encouraging signs lately but sports a 6-13 record.
SKYLINE 61, BLACKFOOT 49
Blackfoot 13 6 16 14 — 49
Skyline 11 20 13 17 — 61
BLACKFOOT — Prairie Caldwell 3, Izzy Arave 4, Esperanza Vergara 21, Kianna Wright 12, Hadley Humpherys 9.
SKYLINE — Sienna Taylor 13, Drew Chapman 11, Sophie Anderson 7, Lizzie Bialas 5, Mattie Olson 20, Tailer Thomas 5.