Girls' basketball: How do you stop Mesa Ridge?

By: Brent W. New
March 7, 2014 Updated: March 7, 2014 at 11:19 pm
photo - Mesa Ridge's Gabby Purnell shoots past Widefield's Haley Armstrong during the second half of a game. Mesa Ridge defeated Widefield 66-23 at Widefield High School on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Mesa Ridge's Gabby Purnell shoots past Widefield's Haley Armstrong during the second half of a game. Mesa Ridge defeated Widefield 66-23 at Widefield High School on Tuesday, January 14, 2014. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Here's a riddle that's baffled Colorado's high school girls' basketball teams: What do you do against Mesa Ridge.

In 25 games nobody in Colorado has figured out how to stop the Grizzlies (25-0), and now, time is running out, as Jeff Beatty's top-seeded bunch heads into the Denver Coliseum on Saturday afternoon to face No. 2 D'Evelyn in the 4A girls' quarterfinals.

The Grizzlies have so much talent at so many positions, there's no one way to beat them. Do you try to slow down their post play and take away easy layups? That would mean finding a way to handle not one but two 6-footers in sophomore Kylee Shook (6-foot-3) and senior Sami Rudd (6-0). Or do you try to press the guards and limit transition points? That would mean disrupting the flow of senior guards and forwards that have played together since the fifth grade.

So far, no one this season has had the answer.

"Well, we have to play like state champions to be one. And the thing that makes us good is our unselfish style of play," Beatty said. "We have seven or so players that can take over a game on any night."

And here they are:

Kylee Shook (The Sensational Sophomore): Shook recoils at the fact she missed the Grizzlies' end run last season, following a badly sprained ankle in the playoffs. Because of that unsettling feeling though, she's been tougher to slow down this season. The center has been so dominant in the paint that her 13.8 points and 10 rebounds a game don't paint a picture of how good she's really been, Beatty says.

"If she wasn't so unselfish, who knows what kind of numbers she could put up," he said.

Gabby Purnell (The Floor Leader): The 5-5 senior is the most vocal and one of the most explosive players on the floor. After improving her mid-range jumpers over the summer, Purnell is scoring 12.6 points per game, which is four points more a game than the captain was scoring last year.

"I'm the coach on the floor." she says. "I need to get the ball in the right places, whether that's the hoop or to one of my teammates."

Tiffani Jackson (The Defensive Specialist): The 5-8 guard proves that even though the Grizzlies are built for low-post play, they can still beat you in transition. Jackson (8.4 ppg), who has shown she can score 20 on any given night, can create her own offense at any moment.

"She'll jump the passing lanes, get us out on transition and she can finish as well," Beatty says.

Sami Rudd (The I-can't-believe-she's-not-playing-in-college Athlete): Rudd, who will row at Kansas State, jokes that Shook constantly gets her out of trouble on the court. But the fact of the matter is Rudd creates a nightmare for other teams. As the team's other skilled 6-footer, Rudd averages 10.6 points and more than six rebounds.

Asked how a team could beat Mesa Ridge this postseason, she said, "They'd have to shoot very, very well."

Mische' Hubbard (The Pinpoint Passer): Hubbard accepts her role as a passer first, shooter second. Honestly, she loves it. While only averaging 4.7 points, Hubbard is a big part of Mesa Ridge's offense.

"My job is to drive to the basket and find the open teammate," she says.

Venessanah Itugbu (The Phenom): Even longer than her name is this 5-10 forward's wingspan. Beatty calls Itugbu one of the best athletes he's seen, and one of the team's best defenders.

"She's extraordinary," he says.

Haily Beatty (The Bully): She calls herself the enforcer. Her dad calls her to do just about everything else.

The 5-2 daughter of the coach has played every position this season and has embraced her role off the bench.

"I'm like the bully on the team. I just go in, play tough and get the other team a little off-balanced," she says.

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