Midway through the first quarter of Thursday night's Modesto Metro Conference girls basketball matchup between Modesto and Gregori, the Panthers' Povai Fesili hit a turnaround jumper from 10 feet that cut the Jaguars' lead to 8-6.
The battle for first place in the MMC, seemingly, was living up to its billing.
But if you were in the stands, and so much as blinked, you likely missed Gregori's 18-2 run to close the quarter fueled by 12 points from senior point guard Maryssa McDuffy as the Jags raced to a convincing 70-27 victory over the Panthers.
During the surge, McDuffy scored in just about every way imaginable: a 15-foot jumper, a 3-pointer, a layup, another layup off a steal, and another trey. That gave her 16 points in the opening stanza and ended the competitive phase of the game.
"You can't coach speed," said third-year Gregori coach Jeff Salyer. "She's a guard who can take it to the hole on every possession, and that opens up the whole floor for everybody else.
"We're still barely jelling. We have 11 juniors, one sophomore and one senior Maryssa. Last season we probably lost eight to 10 games by four points or less. It was a real learning curve for us."
Actually, Gregori only lost four games by four or less during the 2011-12 campaign; they lost by six or less on seven occasions. But the point is clear they were a team on the come, and that was without McDuffy, who transferred from Davis this season.
"At first it was hard, leaving my old team," said McDuffy, who has sparked her team as much with her leadership as her skills. "But once I got here, they made me feel right at home."
And why wouldn't they? McDuffy's game can be summed up in one word.
"Amazing," said Emilee Van Dyke of her teammate's ability. "We played well together right away. We felt like we knew her, from playing against her last year, and we just bonded."
More than just a scorer, McDuffy got her teammates involved and was an irritant on the defensive end. Truth be told, she rarely made it to the defensive end since the Jags' full-court trapping press created numerous turnovers before the ball even got to midcourt.
"That has been one of our nemeses," said Modesto coach Troy Hooks, referring to full-court pressure. "We have had some exposure, as far as playing against it, but I was taken aback by how we responded to it tonight."
Modesto's game plan early on was to concede the outside shot to McDuffy and stop her from driving to the bucket. But McDuffy hit several shots from long range, forcing her defenders to step out.
And that allowed her to find open teammates underneath the basket. Van Dyke scored 16 of her 22 from inside the paint, while 6-foot-2 sophomore Amber Hilvers (11 points) was a force on the blocks.
The Jags (6-0) stand atop the MMC standings followed by Modesto, Enochs and Davis at 4-2 and it appears the conference title is theirs to lose.
"We can't get too cocky," said Van Dyke, a 6-foot-3 junior who scored 15 points in the second half. "We've just got to keep coming out and playing our game."
SEND IN THOSE STATS The Modesto Bee is seeking high school boys' and girls' basketball statistics, not only for publication in our Tuesday basketball package, but to help us in our selection of all-district teams at the conclusion of the season. We will publish the district leaders in scoring and rebounding, so coaches should send those statistics no later than 10 a.m. Monday to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bee staff writer Joe Cortez can be reached at (209) 578-2300 or email@example.com