Now they are in the tournament, and it is time for them to develop a winning mentality.
For much of the first half against Glendale Cactus on Saturday (June 23), the Gators did not show that trait very much. They trailed by five points at halftime.
The second half was a different story. Xavier outscored the Cobras 36-18 in the next 20 minutes to earn a 55-42 victory. And the Gators did it without two of their top players, senior point guard Leilani McIntosh and junior forward-guard Elysia Fleetwood, who were not available.
Xavier heads to the next round, on Sunday (June 24) with a 4 p.m. game against either Phoenix Sunnyslope or Laveen Cesar Chavez. Semifinals and finals are Monday (June 25).
Gators coach Jennifer Gillom said her team learned to play without a key player last season when star forward Montana Oltrogge had to sit out for a few weeks with shin splints. They are facing a similar scenario now.
“You have to keep playing, rely on what you do best,’’ Gillom said.
One player who stepped up in a big way on Saturday was senior guard Addie Putnam. When McIntosh is in the lineup, Putnam sits out on the wing much of the time, letting the ball fly on her trademark 3-point shot.
Against Cactus, her role expanded to ball-handling in addition to shooting, and playing defense. She appears to be in much better shape than last season, with more quickness and agility, and Gillom said part of that can be attributed to Putnam’s desire to earn a college scholarship.
Putnam finished with 29 points.
Another player making an impact was sophomore Tori Saucedo. She scored eight points, all in the second half.
“She was a big contributor out there. She is kind of quiet, but she does some good stuff,’’ Gillom said. “She is another option for us, and that’s what we need.’’
The coach wants her players to continue to be aggressive, just like they were in the second half.
“The players made up their minds that they were going to attack the basket,’’ she said.
They will need improvement with their rebounding by keeping their opponents away from the basket as much as possible. Cactus often put up second and third shots in the first half, but that didn’t occur nearly as much in the second half as Xavier came back.