Team chemistry critical to Doherty girls' playoff run

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Photo - Doherty's Mykiaa Minniss rushes the ball up the court during the Doherty and Mountain Vista girls basketball game at Doherty High School on Thursday, December 15, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette
Doherty's Mykiaa Minniss rushes the ball up the court during the Doherty and Mountain Vista girls basketball game at Doherty High School on Thursday, December 15, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Despite the fact that there are no ropes involved in basketball, holding onto one means an awful lot to the Doherty girls' basketball team.

Hold the Rope is a story, introduced last year by coach Pat McKiernan, that emphasizes team. If a teammate is hanging off the edge of a cliff, would you hold the rope? Would you hold it until your hands bled?

Doherty has utilized stellar team chemistry - created in part by Hold the Rope - to advance to the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament. The No. 7 Spartans (24-1) face No. 2 Grandview (24-1) on Friday at the Denver Coliseum.

"We get along, we work together, and we know each other's games," said senior forward Aubriana Noti.

McKiernan thinks this edition of the Spartans - who got a first round playoff bye, and then beat No. 26 Rampart and No. 23 Fairview - is the closest-knit group he's ever had.

"The kids have really bought into this idea that we preach - we before me," he said. "There can be three, four, five, six passes to get it to the girl that's hot or to get a wide open shot. They have a lot of love for each other."

In close games, that team chemistry comes into play. Senior guard Kalani Poloa, Noti said, will look at the team and say: "This is where we hold the rope."

Doherty last advanced to the final eight in 2011-12, McKiernan's first season at the helm. One thing the 2012 team didn't have, McKiernan said, was a true post presence. This team has it in a big way courtesy of Noti, who averages over 14 points and 11 rebounds per game.

She's had 20 double-doubles in the Spartans' 25 games.

"That allows us more options on offense - we can work the ball inside, which opens up the perimeter," McKiernan said.

For Noti, it's about positioning, so she or a teammate like Poloa - who averages 14.6 points per game and reached the 1,000-point plateau this season - can score.

"Teams will double-team me," Noti said. "I expect to be able to pass it back out. I have to create space to help us score."

In February, Doherty saw several injured players return.

"It gives us more options off the bench," McKiernan said.

"It's made us into a team that's nine (players) deep, and we can give some players breaks that weren't there before."

Doherty and Grandview haven't played this season, but did face off twice in fall league.

"Both teams had all their kids. Things were still pretty raw as far as the offenses we were running, but that gave us a look at what we're up against," said McKiernan, who got his 100th win against Fairview.

The verdict? Grandview is good.

The Wolves' lone loss came against Florida's Miami Country Day, which went 29-1 and cruised to a state title.

"Without RPI, Grandview would be the No. 1 team in the state," McKiernan said. "We're going to have to play really, really well."