LAS VEGAS — A few members of the Tucson Rattlers’ 17-and-under team showed emotion after coming up short in a tightly contested championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational on Saturday.
The Rattlers lost 46-42 to a high-level Cal Sparks National team, unable to hold on to a six-point halftime lead in the game at Canyon Springs High School.
The tears that flowed were not of depression, but instead they were of obvious anger. After a strong 4-0 start in pool play, the Rattlers could not hold on to win the title. If they could play another four quarters against Cal Sparks National right then and there — to correct their wrongs that led to the bitter defeat — they would.
And we are off! ✈️✌🏼 pic.twitter.com/X1eSra6SFn
“That’s what I want. I told them, ‘I want you to leave here upset,'” Rattlers coach Chris Klassen said. “Although that is a great team, they are not a better team. If it was a seven-game series it would go seven games.
“I want our players to be upset about a loss, but I don’t want them to hang their head. They must ask themselves, ‘What could I have done as an individual or as a team to get over that hump.'”
The Rattlers did not have much time to mull over making the abundance of turnovers and allowing Cal Sparks National three wide-open 3-pointers in the third quarter that swung the momentum the other way.
Klassen invoked what he calls the “24-hour rule” in which he tells them, “When you wake up the next day, this is done. Don’t let it weigh on you because you get mental in the wrong way.”
The Rattlers had a 3 a.m. wake-up call the next morning to make their 6 a.m. flight out of Las Vegas to Chicago on Sunday morning. That left no time to become “mental” about the loss. They begin play in the Nike Tournament of Champions this morning through Wednesday in Chicago.
Lauren Green had 13 points and seven rebounds against Cal Sparks National and Natalie Bartle added 12 points and four steals. Aaiyah Ortiz had a phenomenal 10 rebounds despite being one of the shorter players on the court at 5’6″.
But collectively, the Tucson Rattlers could not muster up decent stats to outweigh the performance of Cal Sparks National.
They had 21 turnovers, most coming in the game-changing third quarter, in which they were outscored 14-4. They made only 3 of 16 shots from 3-point range and they left nine points at the free-throw line, making 15 of their 24 attempts.
“This is the kind of team with players I should be playing against all the time,” said incoming Tanque Verde High School freshman guard Kiya Dorroh, who has been offered a scholarship by Arizona coach Adia Barnes.
“We will get better from this. It was a good learning experience. (Klassen) told us after the game that they outworked us in the second half. We were shying away from contact and pressure. What I learned the most is to not shy away from pressure. Go to the ball. Take care of the ball.”
Bartle, one of the Rattlers’ leading scorers in the Las Vegas Invitational from Ironwood Ridge, is looking forward to playing in the midwest, closer to her Michigan home. She is moving back to Michigan, after living in Tucson for five years, to play her senior season there with some of her former club-team teammates.
“A game like this (against Cal Sparks National) will help us going to Chicago,” said Bartle, a 5’6″ guard. “We’ll be playing a lot better teams. It’s going to help us a lot.
“This was a tough loss. They are a real good team. They are aggressive. They came out with a lot higher intensity. That showed us that we have to play with that kind of intensity all of the time.”
Klassen, an assistant coach for the Pima Community College women’s team since 2012, said Cal Sparks National “punched us in the mouth” but added, “we will grow from this.”
“We’ll have to,” he added. “Playing in Chicago is a quick turnaround and that’s a good thing. I have confidence they can rise to the challenge there. It won’t get any easier, but I know they will be tougher.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.