The Pine Ridge girls' basketball team came into the Lakota Nation Invitational on a mission, and now the Lady Thorpes are one win away from completing that mission.
Pine Ridge jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in the LNI semifinal, taking down Custer 63-30.
"We have a big inside game. I have two very good post players that I feel comfortable going with and they both showed up tonight," Pine Ridge coach Laura Big Crow said. "I have a big inside game but I also have a big outside game, so that's a big advantage for us."
Laura Big Crow said the strategy at the start of the game was to feed the ball inside to Matilda Anderson and Taysha Big Crow, but the Lady Thorpes were getting points from everywhere Friday night.
Taysha Big Crow had 16 points while Anderson had 12, but guards Katerri Weston had 18 and Samantha Richard had 10 as well.
"For one the strategy was to keep up with (Custer) because I know they run the floor very, very well," Laura Big Crow said. "We definitely wanted to cram it inside, the game-plan was to go big and to let our outside game handle itself."
The game wasn't very close from the start, as Custer's fast break couldn't develop and Pine Ridge scored whatever way it wanted.
With just under eight minutes to go in the first half, Pine Ridge already had a comfortable 23-8 lead, which turned into 37-11 with 4:03 to go and by halftime it was 42-16.
Even though it was a battle of two undefeated teams, they didn't appear to be equals through the first half.
"We just were inconsistent. We had one or two girls on the floor at any time who were really trying," Custer coach Stephanie Ornelas said. "We didn't get back as well as we normally do, we didn't close out like we should and those are easy baskets."
It didn't get better in the second half, as Pine Ridge outscored Custer 21-14.
Tori Glazer led the Wildcats in scoring with 18 points.
The size difference was noticeable, as Taysha Big Crow and Anderson were able to get the ball inside and work on smaller Custer defenders whenever they wanted.
"We're basically all guards," Ornelas said. "We have moved Tori Glazer, who has been an amazing guard and wing player. We've made her our inside girl for the fact that she's one of our tallest girls at 5-foot 10-inches or 5-11."
At 3-1, the Wildcats will play Red Cloud in the third-place game after the Crusaders lost to Crow Creek in the other semifinal 57-51.
Ornelas said she's hoping this loss can serve as a learning tool for her team going forward.
"One thing we need to keep in mind is that we all need to be together," she said. "A lot of times, with the girls we have, there are some who just want to take over and they have to trust each other more, and that's something that will grow throughout the season."
Pine Ridge will take on Crow Creek in the girls' championship game that it came so close to winning last season.
Last season the Lady Thorpes were in the title game, but lost to Little Wound 65-31.
For Laura Big Crow, going back to Pine Ridge with a LNI championship would be a big deal to her team during this young season.
"We came in very hungry," she said. "This would be a great way to start our season."
Red Cloud and Custer play in the third-place game at 10 a.m., while the championship game will be at 7 p.m.