Denver - Air Academy girls’ basketball coach Phil Roiko didn’t want to spend much time talking about the most unfortunate part of the top-seeded Kadets' 45-42 loss to Pueblo South in a Class 4A semifinal on Thursday at the Denver Coliseum, but at the same time, it was hard to stop once he got started.
“I’m not going to talk about the foul at the end of the game,” Roiko said. ‘It’s not going to help. It doesn’t change things, but that was tough to swallow.”
The Kadets and Colts were locked into the kind of game one would expect after Air Academy won 42-39 in February to clear its toughest hurdle en route to an unbeaten regular season.
“Anytime we play each other, it’s a battle,” the Air Academy coach said. “It’s going to be a fight. Nobody is going to give up. It’s going to go down to the wire. That’s when you have just two good teams that get after it.”
The Kadets chased the Colts and their powerful senior in the post, Gabi Lucero, throughout much of the early action before a 3-pointer from Tatum Miller gave Air Academy a 36-33 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Jada Dupree hit from deep on the other end to tie things before a 6-0 spurt from Lucero gave the No. 4 seed a 42-36 lead with 2:30 to play.
A couple of stops and four straight points from Kylee Blacksten pulled the Kadets within two points in the final minute. The Kadets then grabbed a defensive rebound after a Colt missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving Air Academy a chance to tie or take the lead after a timeout with 32 seconds left.
The Kadets got a couple of looks but couldn’t convert.
“It just wasn’t our night,” Roiko said. “We missed shots.”
The Colts raced down court and missed a shot before the Kadets could foul, and Air Academy hurried down court in the final 20 seconds with one more chance on the break.
Liza Louthan had the ball in the middle of the court with teammates flanking her. Louthan’s preference appeared to be a bounce pass to her left before a Colt defender jolted into the lane. The senior adjusted on the fly and her off-balance layup wouldn’t fall.
The fight for the ensuing rebound went to the ground, and an Air Academy player was whistled for an intentional foul, giving the Colts a couple of free throws and the ball with 8.3 seconds left.
Lucero split a pair before returning to the line after being fouled following the inbounds pass where she gave the Colts an insurmountable 45-40 lead with less than five seconds to play.
“In that situation, at the end of a game like that, I just hope that they really believe that they had it right,” Roiko said.
Lucero hit 9 of 15 shots and 7 of 9 at the line for a game-high 25 points to go with 15 rebounds.
“She’s tough,” the Air Academy coach said. “She did a good job, hit some free throws when she needed to.”
Blacksten scored just before the final buzzer to lead the Kadets with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and Louthan added 11 points.
Pueblo South jumped out to a 9-2 lead, but the Kadets made it a two-point game by halftime. The Kadets couldn’t extend the season to a championship meeting with No. 14 Mullen after shooting 15 of 54 from the field and 5 of 26 from 3-point range.
“As poorly as we played offensively in the first half, I looked up at the scoreboard and I’m going ‘We’re good,’” Roiko recalled telling his team at the break.
“I think we got some good looks, didn’t hit them. Hats off to South and (coach) Shannan (Lang).”