TAHOE CITY, Calif. - Liz Buhler caught fire from the perimeter and Angela Wood converted numerous fast-break points to help lead the North Tahoe girls basketball team to a 38-22 win over visiting Whittell on Friday.
The Mount Rose League opponents played to an 8-8 draw after one quarter, but the Lakers took over the momentum in the second and third quarters with an active defensive effort that led directly to offense.
The hosts outscored the Warriors 7-2 in the second quarter and 10-4 in the third to extend their lead to an 11-point margin, 25-14, entering the fourth.
"We had our opportunities early, but we missed a lot of layups and free throws," said North Tahoe coach Rick Buhler, whose Lakers played without starting center Sage Chador, who suffered a pinched nerve in her neck during warmups, as well as Mallory Tyler, who was sick. "But it was a big team win."
The Warriors played even more shorthanded, as they were missing starters Emily Harris, Sierra Forvilly and Gisselle Benitez. That left senior scoring leader Amanda Harris to carry the load, which North Tahoe countered by switching its 2-1-2 zone defense to a box-and-one, with Liz Buhler guarding Amanda Harris.
It worked, as the Warriors struggled to get into their offense with the active Harris twin covered closely. She finished with a team-high 10 points.
"The first quarter was even, but they kind of took control in the second, and then you could see the rest of it. We couldn't get any rebounds," said Whittell coach Tom Esposito. "It didn't help that we had three starters out."
In addition to her defensive contributions, Liz Buhler injected life into the Lakers' offense with a hot shooting hand. She scored seven points in the third quarter and poured in a game-high 17 points on the night, making two 3-pointers along the way. It was a welcome performance for the senior point guard, who struggled with her shot early in the season but is beginning to find her stroke.
"Yeah, I definitely had a slow start, but I'm finally getting it going, just in time," said Buhler, who also complimented her Lakers' team play, particularly compared to their last meeting against the Warriors when they lost 37-24. "We played as a team, which was a key part of why we fell apart last time we played them."
Wood also created havoc for the Warriors, as the junior guard used her athleticism to create a number of turnovers and convert them into transition layups. She finished with 13 points, while Sara Trimm and Taylor Briggs each contributed four points.
Kenya Maltase scored six points for Whittell and Tori Jimenez had four.
"It was a big win after our showing last time against them, more for the psyche of the team than anything," coach Buhler said.
North Tahoe is now 8-9 overall and 2-4 in the Mount Rose League. Whittell is 8-12 overall and 1-5 in league.
The last time the North Tahoe and Whittell boys basketball teams tangled, the Lakers needed a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to pull off a thrilling, one-point win in Zephyr Cove.
They could have used another one Friday night.
At the end of a closely contested second half, North Tahoe pulled to within a bucket with 40 seconds remaining and had a clean look at a game-tying shot in the final seconds.
Unlike the previous meeting, however, the Lakers' final shot attempt rimmed out, and the visiting Warriors escaped with a 49-47 Mount Rose League win.
"We had our chances," said North Tahoe coach Frank Wright. "We just couldn't get a shot to fall at the end there. But they (the Warriors) executed well. They deserved it."
Both teams failed to maximize their opportunities in the final couple of minutes. On four occasions the Warriors missed the front end of their free-throws in 1-and-1 situations, while the Lakers misfired on a handful of shot attempts when they needed points the most.
"We kept them in the game with our free-throw shooting," said Whittell coach Phil Bryant, whose team missed six free throws over the final two and a half minutes. "But we played hard and are glad to get the win."
North Tahoe junior guard Omar Vargas provided a late spark off the bench when he gathered an offensive rebound and put it back to cut Whittell's lead to 49-47 with 40 seconds left on the clock. After a missed free throw by the Warriors, Vargas confidently fired again from outside as time ran down, but the shot caromed off the rim and out of bounds with 3.7 seconds.
And yet, the Lakers still had a chance after a pair of missed free throws by the Warriors, but Colin Spencer's heave from beyond half court missed its mark wide right as the final buzzer sounded.
"I thought North Tahoe showed great sportsmanship," Bryant said. "That's what high school basketball should be. Everyone played hard and showed class. I have a lot of respect for their kids and coach Wright and the way they handled themselves."
The score remained tight early as the lakeside rivals traded baskets in the opening quarter, which ended with the Lakers ahead, 15-14.
Whittell, which adjusted its defensive strategy after the first meeting, sagging inside to limit North Tahoe's larger post game while constantly harassing point guard Alex Tyler with pressure, outscored the hosts 17-10 in the second quarter to carry a 31-25 lead into the half. At one point the Warriors stretched their lead to 10 points, 29-19, after a steal and layup by Mark Waite capped a 7-0 run.
Although they never led in the second half, the Lakers pulled even midway through the third quarter when Tyler hit a runner in transition. They managed to knot the score once more, 44-all, two minutes into the fourth quarter on a shot by Mitchell Myers. But the Warriors answered with a 3-pointer by Austin Neil and another outside make by Waite with 3:10 remaining to edge ahead again, 49-44.
Whittell did not score another point the rest of the way.
"It was a great game. It didn't turn out the way we wanted, but I thought we played well," Wright said. "We had our chances. It could have gone either way down the stretch."
Neil scored a game-high 19 points for the Warriors, while Bryce Bronken put in 15 points and Garrett Bronken and Waite each scored six. Myers led the Lakers with 13 points. Spencer scored 12 points, Noah McDermott had eight and Tyler, who hit the game-winner at Whittell on Jan. 12, had six.
"I thought we defended pretty well against their size," Bryant said. "No. 15 (Tyler) creates a lot, so we wanted to neutralize him. And 23 (Spencer) and 33 (Myers) are good inside, so we needed to limit them to have a chance."
The Lakers fell to 8-11 overall and 2-4 in Mount Rose League play. Whittell improved to 11-8 overall and 1-5 in league.
UP NEXT: The Lakers play at South Tahoe on Tuesday and at Portola on Thursday. North Tahoe returns home to host Incline on Saturday, girls at 2 p.m. and boys at 3:30.