With just over a minute remaining in the 3A East Regional Championship game, the Buffalo High School girls basketball team trailed the No. 1 Douglas Bearcats (24-2, 6-0 conference) by one point.
The Lady Bison had possession coming out of a timeout, and after moving the ball up the court, passed it around the top of the key, looking for an inside passing lane. With just under 40 seconds to play, freshman Karly Davis drove toward the free-throw line and tossed a floating layup toward the basket.
The ball hit the back of the rim and sunk through the net, giving the Lady Bison a 47-46 lead with just 35 seconds to play.
“When they see an opening to the basket or a shot that they like, they’ve got to be confident enough to do it,” coach Keith Leppert said. “Karly decided that was the shot she wanted, and we kind of give them a green light to attack when they think they have an opportunity — and it went in.”
On the ensuing Bearcat possession, the Lady Bison defense held strong and junior Cassidy Bessler secured the rebound, after a Lady Bearcat miss, before being fouled with just 13 seconds remaining.
At the free-throw line, Bessler’s first attempt rattled around the rim before going in and her second attempt hit nothing but net for a 49-46 Buffalo lead.
As the Lady Bearcats moved the ball back up the court, the Lady Bison bench was on its feet, and with just three seconds to play, a Bearcat 3-point attempt bounced off the rim to give the Lady Bison their first 3A East Regional championship since 2010. The Buffalo victory marks the first time since 2017 that a team other than Douglas has been the 3A East Conference champion. It’s also the first time in 17 tries — dating back to February 2017 — that the Lady Bison have beaten the Bearcats in any game.
“It was 2017 since somebody other than Douglas has won, so they’ve kind of had a stranglehold on it,” Leppert said. “We talked about that and said we wanted to be the team to take that away from them.”
While the final minute was exhilarating, a massive second-half comeback from the Lady Bison made it possible.
After a lackluster first half offensively, Buffalo found itself behind 29-15 at halftime. Leppert said that was partly due to the Lady Bison having to remain in a zone defense because of some foul trouble and because shots just weren’t falling for the Lady Bison, even though they were getting good looks. At halftime, Leppert said, he told the players they didn’t need to change anything in their game plan, they just needed to execute better.
Staying the course worked for the Lady Bison in the third quarter, as they found their footing on offense, putting up 20 points to cut the lead to 42-35. And in the fourth quarter, they played shutdown defense and allowed only four Bearcat points in the final eight minutes of play. Leppert attributed that defense to the team’s depth and athleticism, which has consistently shut teams down in the second half this season.
“It doesn’t matter if they’re the No. 1 team in the state, we’re going to do it to you like we do it to everybody else,” Leppert said. “You can kind of see how we wore the girls down, and Douglas, I think, was pretty tired in that fourth quarter.”
Before defeating the Lady Bearcats in the championship game on Saturday, the Lady Bison also defeated the Rawlins Outlaws 69-35 in the quarterfinal and the Wheatland Bulldogs 62-43 in the semifinal.
Over the three games, the Lady Bison were led in scoring by junior Grace Peterson with 32 points. Karly Davis contributed 30, while junior Tess Rule contributed 28. In the game against Rawlins, Rule had the Lady Bison’s only double-double of the weekend, with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
After celebrating the regional championship over the weekend, Leppert said the Lady Bison were back to work on Monday, prepping for their opening round game at the 3A State Tournament against the Mountain View Buffalos at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Leppert said he expects the Buffalos, a team with some size in the post, to be a difficult matchup, but that the Lady Bison just need to focus on their game plan of using their speed and athleticism to make a run at state.
“We’re ready to get back to work because there’s one more prize that we want to go get,” Leppert said.
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