MISSION — McAllen Memorial junior Cori Talamantez slowly dribbled the ball upcourt while the Mustangs set up their halfcourt offense.
Talamantez dribbled to the top of the arc and noticed the Sharyland Pioneer defender opposite her was sagging off the ball and cheating toward the paint anticipating a pass. Instead, she pulled up from deep and fired a 3-pointer.
The Diamondback defender raced back to try to close out, but raked Talamantez across her shooting arm as the ball rolled around the rim and in. The Mustangs’ starting point guard nailed her free throw for the four-point play, as McAllen Memorial (6-11) used a barrage of 3-pointers and suffocating defense to notch a 45-23 non-district win Tuesday night at Sharyland Pioneer (8-10).
“We started off hot making our 3s, then we made some adjustments,” McAllen Memorial head coach Clarisse Arredondo said. “We kind of slowed down in the second quarter, but in the second half I told them we had to finish for 16 minutes. I just felt that our kids played well together today.”
The Diamondbacks and Mustangs started off embroiled in a defensive battle in the early going with neither team making a shot from the field in the first 3 minutes of play.
But that’s when Memorial’s offense caught fire from behind the arc. The Diamondback defense collapsed into the paint to prevent drives from Talamantez and post-up opportunities for center Iasia Goldman, which left the Mustangs’ shooters open on the perimeter.
Guards Valeria Garcia and Kimberly Treviño hit a series of big 3-pointers, and Memorial played physical half-court defense to open up a 13-2 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“Our 3-point shooting and slowing them down and kind of stopping them inside (gave us our separation),” Arredondo said. “That helped us a lot.”
Pioneer, meanwhile, got off to a sluggish start because of the Mustangs’ tough defense and a cold shooting night from the floor. The Diamondbacks shot just 28% from the floor and struggled to keep pace with the Mustangs’ 3-point shooting.
“We didn’t shoot the ball very well. We’re just going to keep putting in work in the gym and we’ll continue to work on that.” Sharyland Pioneer head coach Nicole Villarreal said. “(We didn’t) play to our potential, but it’s why we play these games and why we play tough teams to prepare us for district. It’ll get us ready.”
Memorial maintained a 24-10 halftime edge thanks to its hot night from the perimeter and stingy defense. Garcia, Gonzalez and Talamantez were a combined 5 of 13 shooting from deep. Talamantez finished with a game-high 18 points and four steals while shooting 60% from the floor and 50% from 3-point land.
Pioneer, however, turned the second half into a much more competitive contest by stepping up its defensive intensity. The Diamondbacks were able to force several turnovers and got their offense rolling with quick-hit transition buckets.
“Our defense (was) able to step up a little bit and match their intensity,” Villarreal said. “I think we didn’t come out with the intensity that we needed to in the first half. I think we did a better job of that in the second.”
The second-half x-factor, though, came in the paint instead of the perimeter. Despite having a sizeable advantage down low, the Diamondbacks had problems consistently getting to the rim and making shots thanks in large part to Goldman’s defense.
Pioneer outrebounded Memorial on the night, but Goldman’s defensive presence was so overpowering that it forced the Diamondbacks to turn to outside shooting to keep up. Pioneer shot 10% from behind the arc, while Goldman posted a game-high 11 rebounds, four points and three blocks on 66.7% shooting.
“She always does a good job of finding where the ball is,” Arredondo said. “I just told, ‘Stay out of foul trouble; make sure we box out.’ But defensively, she’s a huge presence for us inside.”
The double-digit win was a huge relief for the Mustangs, who have been forced to play perhaps the Valley’s most difficult non-district schedule shorthanded.
“Just last week was the first week we’ve had our whole team complete. (Valeria Garcia) was hurt, and I think last weekend’s tournament kind of helped us get the kinks out and move forward for district play next week,” Arredondo said. “We’re trying to (find our groove). It’s been a rough start for us without some of our key players, but I think we’re headed in the right direction now.”
McAllen Memorial will kick off district play in its next game against PSJA North at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in McAllen, while Sharyland Pioneer will return to action to face Hidalgo on the road at 7:30 p.m. Friday.