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Big 4th quarter powers Pioneers over Thunderbirds

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United Tribes Technical College forward LaTosha Thunderhawk (33) runs into traffic under the basket as Gabby Flute Player, left, and Aylin Ramirez, right, of Miles Community College apply defensive pressure during the first half of Wednesday night's game in Bismarck.

In the second game of this year's United Tribes' women's basketball season, the Thunderbirds pounded Miles Community College 82-60.

The Pioneers paid a little of that big loss back on Wednesday evening as they took down the T-Birds 75-67 at the James Henry Community Center.

"We executed our offense and we made shots," Miles head coach Darin Spence said. "We've struggled this year where we've executed well but haven't made shots. In our three wins, we've made those shots."

United Tribes had a five-point lead, 55-50, as late in the game as 7:46 left in the fourth quarter, but a 25-12 deluge of a Pioneer run pounded down the Miles nets over the remaining time in the fourth.

"We talked to the girls in the last few minutes, but also throughout the game, that the last few possessions in the game, the last ten minutes, you have to grind it out," United Tribes head coach Kelsey Peltier said. "You have to stay with the nitty-gritty.

"We didn't take good enough care of the basketball in our offensive sets, so that slipped away from us. In transition on defense, we didn't find our players and got caught up, and that led to some wide-open shots and Miles executed down the stretch."

LaTosha Thunderhawk was her reliable self for the Thunderbirds, going 9 of 15 from the floor and hitting all three of her free throws to lead the action with 21 points.

"(Tosh) Thunderhawk had 21, so we can't get away from getting the ball to our bigs," Peltier said. "That was what was working for us, getting (Thunderhawk) to the line a few times, that was working for us.

"We just have to stay consistent on finding the girls with the hot hand and keep going to them."

On Miles' side, a dynamic duo of Angelia Dimasi (19 points, nine rebounds, four assists) and Gabby Flute Player (15 points, three rebounds, four assists) was a problem for United Tribes all evening long.

"We have capable scorers, but (before tonight) the ball hasn't gone in," Spence said. "I thought we raised our level in the second half and did a better job of executing."

The first three quarters were a story of United Tribes racing out to leads only for the Pioneers to pull back and go on runs of their own.

A double-digit lead for the Thunderbirds midway through the first quarter was down to two by the time the final horn sounded, and both teams would go on runs at various points in the second and third quarters.

Miles did have brief small leads in both the second and third quarters, but UTTC's shooting would always wake up enough afterwards to put the Pioneers back down anywhere from five to nine points.

"I was telling the girls, we can't have little spurts where we don't execute on offense," Peltier said. "Teams can capitalize on that. When we stayed steady in our offense, and were patient with the basketball and looked for our post players, that worked well for us."

Both the first and second quarter were cleanly played, and neither team did much damage at the charity stripe. The second half was another story, as both teams put up a majority of their combined 29 free-throw shots in the final 20 minutes of action.

Free-throw shooting and shooting in general were what got Miles back into the action, as Spence's crew started hitting shot after shot, many of them open looks after well-set screens.

Defense wasn't out of the picture either for the Pioneers, as they forced United Tribes into a number of empty possessions at the key moments when they were making their run.

"United Tribes is a hard matchup, because they spread you out and want to outscore you," Spence said. "We focused better in the second half and did a better job on their screen work and containing the ball."

The game was tied at 59 apiece with 5:45 left, and the Pioneers doubled up the Thunderbirds from there, splashing home a 16-8 run to close out the action.

Spence, who took over the Pioneer program in August of 2021, was pleased with how his team's offense operated.

"We were making our cuts with more purpose, and had better ball movement," Spence said. "We were getting the ball to the players who can score and we weren't taking bad shots."

Peltier was particularly glad of the opportunity the Pioneers provided her squad late in the fourth, well after the game had been decided, as Miles called two different timeouts to advance the ball past half-court to give themselves a chance to run some half-court looks they might use again in a closer game than Wednesday night's action.

"When those timeouts are called at the end of the game, it's still important that the girls don't give up and are still communicating screens and switches," she said. "The girls need to play consistent defense until the horn sounds."

Despite the free opportunity for game looks in potentially important scenarios that could well play out in future action, Peltier will take both tonight and the two teams' first meetup into consideration when making a game plan for the next time the two teams meet.

"Early on, it was a good measuring point of how we were doing," Peltier said. "We had a little more structure early on because they were learning a new program, but you could tell tonight that the coaching staff does a good job and they're turning things around over there.

"We can't overlook anybody's record, overlook how teams have played in the past, because every night is a new night. We just have to go back to the drawing board, look at what we did right the first time, what we did wrong the second time, and figure out what we need to do to get better."

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