LITTLETON - Realistically, the Legend and Littleton girls basketball teams realize wins will be at a premium in arguably the state’s toughest league.
That’s why last Friday night’s Continental opener between the two at Littleton was vital for both of them, and why the Titans were breathing a sigh of relief and the Lions are behind the 8-ball heading into a brutal four-game stretch that began with Tuesday’s game against No. 1 Regis Jesuit.
Legend, with nine sophomores on its roster, got 22 points from Mataya Racek, one of two seniors, and survived a turnover-infested game for a 58-48 victory, its first win in four tries since the holiday break.
“We needed it really bad,’’ said second-year Titans coach Eli Moore, whose team improved to 5-6. “We had a three-game losing streak and really needed to find a way to win.’’
Racek, Legend’s top returning scorer after Madison Porter opted not to return and concentrate on tennis, where she is a Division I prospect, picked a good time to awaken from a bad case of the shooting blahs. She shot 4-of-35 from the floor in the three post-break losses. She scored 2 and 4 points in the first two, and 12 in the third but needed to go 7-8 from the foul line for that. Friday, Racek was 8-of-17 from the floor.
“We were in a little slump and, personally, I was, too,’’ Racek said. “We just fought back and played for each other. I was just trying to be there for my team. I’ve been working on being positive and finishing around the basket and getting to the line.
“We really needed the win, and it’s going to help us throughout league getting the first win.’’
Littleton (7-6) had won four straight and seven of nine and seemed on track to making huge strides from last year’s 7-17 mark. The Lions averaged 53.7 points while allowing 41.3, a sharp turnaround from last season’s 37.8 and 53.3.
Playing without 6-1 junior Stacey Zuppa -- their leading rebounder and No. 3 scorer, who has signed to play lacrosse at Duquesne University, was competing in California with her club team - the Lions had trouble matching Legend on the boards. It didn’t help that 6-0 Kate Winslow had foul trouble and sat out all but a few seconds of the second quarter. All of that forced Littleton coach Adam Williams to adjust with a four-guard lineup that was effective on defense but not so much on offense or the boards. The Lions forced 36 Legend turnovers but were outrebounded 36-18. Joey Sale, a 5-11 sophomore, led the Titans with 11 rebounds and added 13 points (7-10 free throws).
“Our whole thing is to outrebound the opponent and keep our turnovers under 20,’’ Moore said. “We outrebounded 20 of 24 opponents last year and all 11 this year. But when you turn the ball over 30-some times … you can’t do that.’’
Littleton’s defense was disruptive, to say the least, its quick lineup forcing numerous double-teams on the ball resulting in tie-ups or outright steals. It helped the Lions build an early 11-7 lead, but Legend’s foul shooting, combined with Littleton’s struggles at the line, enabled the Titans to pull ahead in the second quarter despite the Lions getting a big lift from Kiera Lindgren.
A slight 5-5 sophomore, Lindgren scored nine of her career-high 13 points in the second quarter. But Littleton was just 4-of-15 from the foul line in the first half to Legend’s 13-19, and the Titans led 26-23 at the break.
Racek scored nine points as Legend settled down somewhat in the third quarter, building a seven-point lead that stretched to 11 early in the fourth. Littleton made a run, getting to within five points with 2:12 left but was 8-of-14 on free throws in the final 3:51.
Legend was 27-38 (71 percent) to Littleton’s 17-35 (49 percent) at the line for the game.
“Like I said to the girls, it’s more than just those 10 points,’’ Williams said. “If we had shot free throws at a decent rate we probably would’ve gone into the half up by three or four, and the game changes. We don’t have to scramble and play crazy in the last four minutes.
“But we were a little out of synch offensively (without Zuppa). We primarily go with two posts. We didn’t have them and we looked a little off.’’
Sophomore Laura Puchino led Littleton with 14 points.
In addition to Regis, the Lions face Mountain Vista, ThunderRidge (both received votes in the Denver Post poll) and No. 5 Rock Canyon in succession.
“One of our goals is to get four conference wins, so we’ll have to figure out how to do that,’’ Williams said.