MARICOPA — The Rams have been involved with some close games this year, but little mistakes always come back to haunt them in the end. It happened again Thursday, as Maricopa suffered a 69-62 loss to Yuma Cibola.
Cibola (6-4) jumped out to a fast start with a pair of 3-pointers by Patrick Frost, but Maricopa was able to get its offense rolling by going to junior center Merhauti Xepera. The Raiders started to pull away early, but then the Rams went on a few small runs.
However, after going on these mini runs, Maricopa (2-9) started hurting itself with careless turnovers, missing easy shots, poor defense or missing free throws. There were times the Rams would pull within a basket of the Raiders, but the mistakes would get the better of them.
“We were able to cut this game into a one-possession game,” Maricopa coach Paul Gretkerewicz said. “We ended up missing free throws, then not getting back on defense to allow two quick points. That’s a huge swing when it’s a close game, then we kept digging ourselves back.”
At times, Maricopa struggled defending the Cibola shooting. Heading into halftime, the Raiders made seven shots from beyond the arc. Then, in the second half, the Raiders made five more 3-pointers. Frost finished with five made 3-pointers, then Trey Banks and Jonah Ponder each made three from beyond the arc.
“We threw three different looks at them,” Grekerewicz said. “We ran our 3-2 zone, 2-3 zone and went to man. They moved the ball well and have some experience on that team, so we knew we had to throw different things at them.”
Maricopa got some big individual performances in the loss.
Leading the way was sophomore guard Anthony-Lamar Wilcox, who led the game in scoring, with 20 points. Senior guard Justin Stovall added 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Xepera finished with a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Senior guard Justice Stephens contributed 12 points on four made 3-pointers.
The Rams committed 15 turnovers and missed nine free throws, while the Raiders turned it over six times and missed one free throw. The Raiders guards led the way, as Banks finished with 19 points and Kerekes added 17 points. Cibola’s center Eric Ramirez led the game with eight assists and led his team with 11 rebounds.
Even with the early mistakes, the Rams got themselves within five points of the Raiders with under three minutes remaining in the game. Ultimately it was a finish where both teams traded baskets, and the Rams had to foul the Raiders to make any sort of last-second push.
“We started to get it together,” Gretkerewicz said. “Then, we turned it over too much, missed a lot of free throws in a close game. We missed some easy opportunities to score that we need to finish. We have to finish out on these close ones.”