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Sugar-Salem’s Mardee Fillmore goes up for the shot against Bonners Ferry in Thursday’s 3A girls basketball opening round at Skyview High School in Nampa.

NAMPA—In a game where shooting was not the strong point for either team, rebounding and turnovers proved to be the deciding factors.

Such was the case for the defending 3A state champion Sugar-Salem High School girls basketball team in Thursday afternoon’s 57-31 win over Bonners Ferry in the opening round of the 3A state tournament at Skyview High School. While the Diggers shot 30.4 percent from the field to the Badgers’ 25 percent, Sugar-Salem outrebounded Bonners Ferry 52-34 and scored 26 points off turnovers.

“That was probably one of our worst shooting games we’ve had all season,” said Sugar-Salem head coach Crystal Dayley, whose team is averaging 60 points per game. “Our shots weren’t falling, but I think we stepped up in every other aspect of the game.”

Those aspects included fewer turnovers (10 to Bonners Ferry’s 27), steals (22 to Bonners Ferry’s six) and defensive rebounds (63.6 percent to Bonners Ferry’s 41.5). While the Diggers built leads of 17-9 after the first quarter and 31-20 at halftime, their execution in those non-scoring areas were showcased in a second half full of scoring droughts for both teams. The Badgers cut the deficit to 39-28 with 1:58 left in the third quarter before Sugar-Salem ended the quarter up 44-28, then the Diggers went to work defensively in the fourth. While outscoring the Badgers 13-3, Sugar-Salem extended possession after possession thanks to rebounds, smooth passing and pouncing on loose balls.

“We were just saying, ‘Play all out. Play with our hearts,’” said senior Macie Knapp, who finished with a game-high 18 points and added nine rebounds. “Rebounding is a lot about heart. Whoever wants it most can get more rebounds.”

Knapp was joined by seven other Diggers on the scoresheet. Fellow senior Madi Fillmore had 12 points while sophomore Mardee Fillmore, one of Madi’s two younger sisters on the team, had eight points and 12 rebounds for Sugar-Salem, which plays Homedale in Friday’s semifinals at 6:15 p.m.

“She’s an amazing player,” Dayley said of Mardee Fillmore. “She was bringing several opportunities for second chance points. Especially for being a sophomore playing in her first state tournament, this is her chance to step up.”

Knapp said she knows distributing the ball can make a difference when opponents try to limit her, adding that she has faith in her teammates to step in. She said the Diggers (22-2) are feeling focused rather than pressured as defending state champions, and they know how they want to end this weekend.

“I’ve been playing with this group since fourth grade,” Knapp said. “We grew up together. This senior year we’ve been looking forward to for so long.”

Dayley confirmed that observation.

“These seniors, all four of them, they’ve put in so much time,” Dayley said. “They’re willing to do what it takes.”

Marlowe Hereford is a sports reporter for the Post Register. Contact her at 208-542-6772 and find her on Twitter at @mwhereford.

Marlowe Hereford has worked for the Post Register since August 2011. She has covered 11 different high school sports, Olympic sports and recreational sports.

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