Camp Verde coach Mark Showers was frustrated. “She’s the best player on the floor,” he barked at one of his players. “Why aren’t you guarding her?”
The Camp Verde player did not to respond, because the answer was pretty clear.
They couldn’t guard Arissa Paulson.
The Payson sophomore proved unstoppable in powering the Longhorns to a 53-43 girls basketball victory over the Cowboys on Tuesday night at Wilson Dome. She scored a career-high 26 points and pulled down 18 rebounds as PHS improved to 2-3 after opening the season with a 1-3 showing in the Queen Creek Tournament.
But the Longhorns were shorthanded in that tournament. Injuries sidelined a couple of players. And neither Arissa nor her sister, senior point guard Arianna Paulson, played in that Nov. 25-26 event because they were on Thanksgiving vacation with their family.
And Payson showed what a difference it makes when the Paulson sisters appear on the court.
“Anytime you have a girl get those stats, it’s pretty impressive,” said Payson coach Jennifer White. “And Ari was impressive at the point. She led our team.
“She handled the ball really well with low turnovers. I think that’s one thing that’s plagued us in the past is turnovers and she’s working really hard to keep the ball and make good decisions and she did that tonight.”
Arianna Paulson said it’s not hard getting the ball to her sister.
“She’s really good at getting open,” Arianna said. “But, a lot of times, if you just get the ball to her, she’s really good at fighting for it and getting the ball up even when there’s someone on her.”
Arissa Paulson wasted no time making her presence known. She scored seven points to help the Longhorns build a 15-10 lead after eight minutes and poured in 11 more in the second quarter as the home team entered the break ahead by nine, 34-25.
She added four points in the third quarter as the Cowboys outscored the Longhorns 10-9. She finished with four more in the final period and PHS held the visitors to eight points in the quarter to smother any hope of a Camp Verde comeback.
“I thought I did well under the basket,” Arissa said. “I was boxing out and getting open underneath and Ari’s passes were good into the post.”
Harley Turney tossed in eight points and Arianna Paulson seven for PHS.
“Harley plays great defense,” White said. “She worked super hard.”
White said the younger players benefitted from getting extended minutes with three starters missing the tournament and that’s paying dividends with the team now at full strength.
“It gave our younger players a chance to step up, which they did again tonight,” the coach said. “I don’t feel like we have any weak links. All of our team steps up and works hard together.
“I’m really proud of them. They worked hard. They did everything that we asked. They’re coming together as a team. And they’re just going to keep getting better.”
White said she was happy to see her players come up with a strong defensive effort.
“We’ve been working hard on our offense and we still need to work on it, but it’s coming together,” the coach said. “I think one of our biggest (positive areas) was our defense. We have some strong girls and our posts are working hard. Arissa’s a returner, and so is Savannah Grassel. She’s coming off a knee injury. And, even though she fouled out, she was just solid the whole time.
“But we had some great work off the bench for our posts, too, with Cori Barnett and Sara Novack. I think it’s a really big team effort.”
Novack and Tessa Hintze both scored four points. “This is Tessa’s her first real game at varsity and she did a great job,” White said.
Ray Chatter and Maddy Showers scored 10 points apiece to lead the Cowboys, who entered the game 4-1.
“We’ve never played Camp Verde before and we didn’t know what to expect,” White said. “I’m really proud of our team. They stepped up and played well.”
PHS, which was scheduled to play host to Cottonwood Mingus on Thursday, travels to play at Fountain Hills at 5:30 p.m. today.
Payson 53, Camp Verde 43
Camp Verde 43 — Ray Chatter 3 3-6 10, Kayla Sandoval 0 0-0 0, Maddy Showers 2 6-9 10, Caitlin Harris 1 0-0 2, Mariah Daniels 4 0-0 8, Gabby Ontiveros 3 1-2 9, Gerlaura Vaughn 0 0-0 0, Sierra LeBlanc 1 1-2 3, Dusty Dowdle 0 1-2 1. Totals 14 12-21 43.
Payson 53 — Tessa Hintze 2 0-2 4, Harley Turney 3 2-6 8, Arianna Paulson 3 1-2 7, Arissa Paulson 11 4-8 26, Savannah Grassel 1 0-0 2, Kelsee Stonebrink 0 0-0 0, Cori Barnett 0 0-0 0, Sara Novack 2 0-1 4, Lanie O’Donnell 1 0-3 2, Sadie Dunman 0 0-1 0. Totals 23 7-23 53.
Camp Verde 10 15 10 8 — 43
Payson 15 19 9 10 — 53
3-point goals — CV: Ontiveros 2, Chatter. P: none.