Tara Thompson, along with the rest of the Dimond girls basketball team, wasn't making many shots Thursday at Sullivan Arena, but she managed to make the biggest of shots in a 42-41 victory over West Valley in the first round of the Class 4A state basketball tournament.
With 30 seconds to play and the Lynx trailing by a point, Thompson found herself wide open in the left corner and buried a 3-pointer to give Dimond its first lead at 40-38.
"I just took my time and tried to pray it went in," Thompson said. "It was kind of like a big relief, like OK, we're up now, we can settle and now it's our turn to waste time on the clock."
Thompson's on-ball defense helped force a turnover on West Valley's next possession and Dimond's Ione Fischer sealed the win with a pair of free throws that put the Lynx ahead 42-38 with 14 seconds to play.
Fischer was the only Dimond player with a hot shooting touch. She drained 5 of 7 shots from beyond the arc and finished with a game-high 17 points. Karenna Liggon and Thompson each scored eight, and Aminata Cole ruled the boards with 12 rebounds.
Dimond trailed 26-15 at halftime after shooting 15 percent from the floor prior to the break, but the Lynx started chipping away and forged a 32-32 tie with six minutes left in the final quarter.
"We just got pumped up and knew the game wasn't over," Fischer said. "I had faith in our whole team to finish, no doubt, no doubt."
West Valley, last season's runner-up in the state tournament, scored back-to-back field goals to go up 38-32 with three minutes to play, but didn't hit another shot until Hannah Mattson buried a 3-pointer at the final buzzer.
Mattson, a senior who has signed to play Division I basketball with the University of Portland next season, was playing for the first time in about two months. She sat out the bulk of the season with a broken hand and West Valley struggled initially without her. Their record not good enough to earn a spot in the state tournament, the Wolfpack had to win the Mid Alaska Conference championship to earn a berth.
"It was a monumental task just getting here," West Valley coach Steve Caciari said. "They bonded and played one heck of a conference championship and the really neat thing about it all is (Mattson) got a chance to play some (state tournament) games her senior year."
Mattson turned in a 13-point, five-rebound effort Thursday to go with a team-high 14 points and six rebounds from senior Caitlyn Brice.
Dimond's road to the state tournament was much smoother than West Valley's. The Lynx won their fourth straight Cook Inlet Conference championship earlier this month, completing an undefeated run through the CIC for the fourth straight season. CIC success hasn't translated to state tournament success, however, the Lynx failing to get beyond the semifinals the past four seasons.
"We get under the big lights on the big court and we're just a different team," Dimond coach Jim Young said. "For us it's just the whole mental thing. We persevered today and we definitely will have to play better the next couple games if we want to make a run for the state title."
Young was disappointed in the sloppy play that forced the Lynx to climb out of a big hole, but he wasn't surprised when Thompson came through with the big trey at the end of the game.
"She's one of the best shooters in the state and she's just a gamer, she's just a competitor," he said.
Wasilla 56, Juneau 23
The Wasilla Warriors began their quest for a third straight state championship with an emphatic 56-23 win over Juneau.
The Warriors wielded multiple weapons, foremost among them 6-foot-1 senior Kyla Dinkel, who poured in 21 points on 10 of 16 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals.
The victory puts Wasilla into a 5:15 p.m. Friday semifinal game against conference rival Colony. The Warriors victimized Juneau for 15 steals, an effort led by Alisha Devine, who had four steals and nine points. Alexis Imoe (14 points) and Jenna Ford (six assists) had a pair of steals apiece for Wasilla, which is trying to become the first team to three-peat since East in 2002.
Kaitlin Fagerstrom and Gabi Fenumiai led Juneau with seven points apiece.
Colony 44, West 35
Division I-bound Mary Klapperich of Colony drained four 3-pointers to lead Colony past West 44-35.
Klapperich, a 6-foot guard headed for Southern Utah, led the Knights with 15 points and nine rebounds.
West pestered Colony for 15 steals, five by Shemeah Keisala Jones, but the effort did the Eagles little good -- they gave away the ball 22 times.
Faith Farris scored 12 points and Jennifer Solano grabbed eight rebounds for Colony.
CeCe Cockerham led West with 14 points and six rebounds.
Lathrop 56, Kodiak 42
Jasmine White scored seven points in Lathrop's game-ending 10-0 run, sparking a 56-42 triumph over Kodiak.
Lathrop trailed 46-42 with less than four minutes when White triggered the 10-point outburst with a field goal and went on to hit five of nine free throws.
White finished with 20 points and seven assists. Ruthy Hebard turned in a monstrous, 23-rebound performance and Erisha Talley added 15 points for the Malemutes.
Megan Pyles chalked up 12 points and 13 rebounds and Jerica Nelson scored 20 points, including a 3-pointer that made it 46-42 with 3:48 remaining.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335. Sports editor Beth Bragg contributed to this report.