Slifka and Gregg combine for 31 points as Braves defeat the visiting Bulldogs 47-34

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: WADE EVANSON - Banks' Sydney Gregg goes up for a shot against North Bend's Haley Edwards during their game Dec. 18 at Banks High School.A work in progress: That's what the Banks Braves girls basketball team is right now.

Despite finishing second to state power Sutherlin in last year's state tournament, returning a number of key contributors — and presently being 4-0 and No. 2-ranked in the OSAA 4A classification — this year's Braves are still finding their way as the non-conference season races towards the Cowapa League opener Jan. 16 at Tillamook.

"We're a defensive team, and if we put it together, we could be a good offensive team, but we aren't very fundamentally sound on the offensive end right now," said Banks head coach Brandon Begley. "We have the building blocks to work with offensively, but we've been playing with a lot of young kids thus far who weren't really expected to see this much action early on, so we're kind of finding our way."

The Braves have had to battle through a number of nagging injuries over the first month of the season, but are starting to get healthy and in the process get their projected team some time on the floor together.

"We have almost everyone back," Begley said. "Destiny (Maller) and Jessi (Wren) are back now, so we're finally getting healthy. We've had to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores, and it's made things a little tough on the court at times."

Not so much on this night.

Banks sprung from the gate and defeated North Bend 47-34 Monday, Dec. 18, at Banks High School. The Braves were led by a couple standout returners, junior point guard Aspen Slifka and senior post Sydney Gregg, who combined for 31 points and 10 rebounds and got added help from senior guard Kim Jordan, who tallied six points and set a tenacious tone defensively on the perimeter.

After an early Bulldog three-pointer gave the visitors a 3-2 lead, the remainder of the first quarter was all Braves. Slifka scored from point-blank range to make it a 4-3 game, then added seven more, the last of which came from beyond the arc to give Banks an eight-point edge. They'd make it nine by the end of the first quarter, then grow it to 15 primarily on the backs of Gregg and Slifka who scored 17 of the Braves 26 first-half points.

It was more of the same to start the third quarter, as Gregg scored four quick points to make it 30-13. Then Slifka added a bucket, and when Wren and Jordan added scores of their own, Banks led by 20 and the game for all intents and purposes was over.

"I thought we played well overall, but you always worry about games over Christmas break and we played like that at times tonight," said Begley. "We have a tendency to lose focus a bit during games when we get big leads, which is discouraging after what happened last year."

And what happened last year? Well, if you're a Banks fan, you know, but if you're not, it goes something like this: Braves get big lead in state championship game, lose said lead and ultimately the state championship. It was a harsh reminder of what can happen when you lose focus, and it's something Begley hopes not to repeat.

"It's a tough battle, but at the same time we know if we do that against good teams it will come back to bite you," said the coach. "And it bit us hard last year."

It didn't bite the Braves against North Bend, but it did rear its head to an extent. After taking a 39-20 lead to the fourth quarter and almost immediately making it 43-20, Banks got sloppy on the offensive end and somewhat lazy defensively, allowing the Bulldogs 14 points over the final 4:30.

"We've had stretches like that," Begley said. "But we're working on it, and hopefully will get if worked out."

Banks next plays at Estacada Thursday, Dec. 21.

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