As the Merced High School girls basketball team came out of the locker room at halftime, they began warming up at the wrong basket.
Bears coach Rob Pierce had to redirect his team to the opposite basket.
“Come on now, act like you’ve done this before,” Pierce said.
The problem is a lot of the Merced players haven’t, at least at the varsity level. The Bears’ inexperience showed in the opening round of the 22nd Annual Lady Cougar Classic as Madera cruised to a 51-35 win on Thursday afternoon at Golden Valley High.
The Bears return only five players from last year’s team, including two starters in Raelynn Blackwell and Kiara Graves. No longer can Merced rely on the experience of third-and-fourth-year guards Lexi Thompson, Symone Gilliam and Jordan Pierce, who all graduated.
“I knew it would be a challenge for us losing three main players,” Rob Pierce said. “Those three played a lot of minutes and contributed in so many ways. It may take us awhile to find guards who will step up for us.”
Pierce watched as his team committed 28 turnovers against a Coyotes team that Merced beat 56-55 on Tuesday night at Merced High.
In the rematch, Madera ran away from the Bears in the second quarter, opening up a 26-10 lead by halftime.
What was the difference two days later?
“We had a lot of turnovers,” said Blackwell, who led the Bears with 14 points. “We weren’t playing as a team. We were giving up before halftime. We didn’t really start playing until the end of the third quarter.”
The Bears had more turnovers (nine) in the second quarter than points (six) as the Coyotes closed the half with a 16-2 run.
On three straight occasions Madera beat Merced’s defense downcourt for layups.
“We talked quite a bit about getting back on defense and running up and down the floor,” Pierce said. “We didn’t hustle back, and lo and behold they beat us downcourt three times in a row. We just didn’t come ready to play. Our focus was elsewhere.
“We didn’t play basketball until the end of the third quarter, and by then the hole was so deep we were struggling to breathe.”
Ashley Hansen led Madera with a game-high 15 points.
After scoring just 19 points through the first three quarters, Merced did manage to score 16 in the fourth quarter. Nobody other than Blackwell scored more than four points for the Bears.
Merced will be back in action Friday at 3:30 p.m. in a consolation game against the loser of Thursday’s first-round matchup between Beyer and El Capitan.
Buhach Colony, Golden Valley and Stone Ridge Christian will also be in action Friday on the second day of the tournament.