La Center junior Taylor Mills nailed a corner jump shot just prior to the sounding of the final buzzer to lead the Wildcats to a hard-fought 48-46 win over Columbia (Burbank) Thursday at the Class 1A girls state basketball tournament at the Yakima SunDome.
The victory kept La Center alive at the state tourney and advances the Wildcats to a Thursday quarterfinals matchup with No. 1-seeded Cashmere at 10:30 a.m.
Mills, a 6-foot-2 post, broke the tie with a perimeter jump shot on the final possession of the game. The Wildcats began the play by inbounding the basketball to sophomore point guard Taylor Stephens at the opposite end of the court from their own basket. Stephens dribbled up the floor and as she neared the top of the key area, she hurled a pass to Mills in the left corner of the court.
— Tourneytown (@Tourneytown) March 1, 2017
“I knew winning this game was important since it could be our last, but I shot it like any other shot and I’m grateful I have a good teammate like Taylor (Stephens) to trust me with the final shot,’’ Mills told ClarkCountyToday.com.
La Center, which improved its season record to 23-1 with the victory, jumped out to a 17-10 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Wildcats scored just five points in the second quarter and led by just three points at halftime, 22-19.
Columbia trimmed that lead to two points, at 32-30, heading into the final eight minutes of play and the two teams were tied at 46 before Mills’ game-winning shot.
“At the start, we had to get used to playing in the new atmosphere of the dome and later on our shots started falling,’’ Mills said. “I think everyone played great defense from start to finish.’’
There was some confusion as to whether or not Mills’ shot was a 3-pointer or 2-pointer. The official score and boxscore reflected the shot was a 2-pointer and the game state sheet indicated Mills did not attempt any 3-pointers in the game.
Mills finished with eight points and six rebounds in 28 minutes of action. The Wildcats were led by junior guard Bethany Whitten, who had 13 points, four assists, four steals and three rebounds. Whitten made five of her 12 shots from the field, including three of her seven attempts from behind the 3-point line.
Stephens, the Trico League’s Most Valuable Player and La Center’s leading scorer, finished with 10 points while playing all 32 minutes. Stephens also had two assists and two steals in the game.
Junior Molly Edwards added 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting from the field for La Center. Junior Whitley Seter had a team-high eight rebounds and she added four assists and two steals for the Wildcats.
Mills and her teammates now have to get ready for Cashmere, rated No. 1 in the WIAA’s final RPI rankings.
“I think Cashmere is going to be a good test for us because they’re a really good team,’’ Mills said. “We just have to work hard the whole time no matter how good the team we’re playing against is and believe in each other.’’