AURORA | After losing to the No. 1 team in the country, the Regis Jesuit girls basketball team showed why its Colorado’s clear No. 1 team.
Stinging a bit from a 68-50 loss to powerhouse Incarnate Word Academy at the Coaches vs. Cancer High School Shootout in St. Louis, the defending Class 5A state champion Raiders came out determined to get back on the winning track Saturday night at Grandview.
Regis Jesuit — the nearly unanimous No. 1 team in the Associated Press’ Colorado 5A poll — stifled the third-ranked Wolves from start to finish in a 62-41 victory in the rematch of teams that met in last season’s 5A semifinals.
“It was tough losing by like 20 points (in St. Louis), but after we lose we just know we have to come out hard in our next game and redeem ourselves, basically,” said senior Justine Hall, who had a game-high 22 points for the Raiders, who remained unbeaten against Colorado teams and improved to 7-2.
“We were champing at the bit to get back out there,” she added. “We came out hard on D and did what we could do.”
Senior Diani Akigbogun scored 12 points and sophomore Julia Drexelius had seven as Regis Jesuit topped 9-2 Grandview team that looks significantly different than the one that played the Raiders to within three points in last season’s Final Four.
Regis Jesuit’s defense stymied the Wolves and freshman standout Michaela Onyenwere, who was held to a season-low 10 points — half of her average for the season — while senior Natalie Halbleib finished with 11 points and senior Brittany Bender had 10.
The Raiders held Grandview without a field goal — a span of 19 shots — until Onyenwere’s layup with just under two minutes remaining in the first half while streaking out to a lead that reached 21 points (31-10) at halftime.
“We came out strong defensively; after playing four top 15 teams in the country, it was nice to play somebody else,” Regis Jesuit coach Carl Mattei said. “I told the kids ‘just do what you’ve been doing the last four weeks and once we get back to our state, it’s going to pay off.’ It paid dividends because the game was a lot slower than what we’ve been used to, so it helped us in transition and setting the tempo.”
A pair of Halbleib 3-pointers in the third quarter pulled the Wolves as close as 14, but Hall responded with a 3-pointer and a pair of layups as the lead went back up to 20 points at the end of the third.
Both teams played without several regulars in the final quarter, as senior Katie Cunningham fouled out for the Wolves and Onyenwere got banged up fighting for a rebound, while Mattei rested many of his regulars after three straight Akigbogun layups produced a 28-point advantage in the fourth.
Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky saw Regis Jesuit top his team for the fourth time in the past five seasons and came away impressed.
“Regardless of if they would have won (in St. Louis), I think they would have played the same way,” Ulitzky said. “I think the first half was a little bit of shock and awe for our kids. I think we came out and played better in the second half, which I’m proud of. They played hard the entire game and there’s a reason they are where they are ranked and everything.
“I’ve got to get to work to help us get to where we can compete with that team. I think we can.”
Despite the lopsided nature of the loss, Bender — one of three seniors along with Halbleib and Cunningham — who played in the semifinal game last year, thought the experience would be one the Wolves could benefit from with still more than half of the season ahead.
Grandview’s fight in the third quarter showed the Wolves the type of level they can reach at times and hope to sustain it as they get back into Centennial League play.
“Definitely we wanted to beat them, but we have a new team and everybody is still learning how each other is playing,” Bender said. “I feel like it’s better to do it now than later on when we’re in state with them again.
“I think we’re capable of playing to their level if we just play together to our full potential. We have a lot to work on, but I know we can come back as a better team.”
Regis Jesuit has another in-state test ahead when it plays host to No. 7 Castle View (9-2) on Jan. 15 before the Raiders head to the Classic in the Country in Cleveland, where more ranked teams await.
“Grandview is a great team and well coached, but it was scary out there,” Mattei said about playing nationally-ranked foes. “After seeing what we’ve seen, it’s nice to come home.”
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. Facebook: Aurora Prep Sentinel
(1) REGIS JESUIT 62, (3) GRANDVIEW 41
Score by quarters:
Regis Jesuit 16 15 15 16 — 62
Grandview 3 7 16 15 — 41
REGIS JESUIT (62)
Justine Hall 10 0-0 22, Jess Lewis 1 0-0 3, Diani Akigbogun 6 0-2 12, Kelsi Lidge 2 0-0 5, Jordan Molyneaux 2 0-0 4, Neffie Lockley 2 0-0 4, Cheyenne Cleveland 1 0-3 2, Anna Ptasinski 1 0-0 3, Julia Drexelius 1 4-4 7, Maggie Grossiant 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 4-9 62.
Jen Jordan 1 0-0 3, Michaela Onyenwere 2 6-8 10, Natalie Halbleib 3 2-2 11, Katie Cunningham 2 1-3 5, Brittany Bender 4 2-4 10, Kennede Brown 0 0-1 0, Denise Batiste 0 0-0 0, Christina Salazar 1 0-0 2, Hannah Hasstedt 0 0-0 0, Alexis Gregson-Hammond 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 11-18 41.
3-point field goals — Regis Jesuit (6): Justine Hall 2, Julia Drexelius, Jess Lewis, Kelsi Lidge, Anna Ptasinski; Grandview (4): Natalie Halbleib 3, Jen Jordan. Total fouls — Regis Jesuit 16, Grandview 16. Fouled out — Grandview: Katie Cunningham. Technical fouls — None.