HELENA — Jaime Pickens and her Helena High girls basketball teammates had their troubles with Missoula Hellgate on Thursday night.
So the future Montana Lady Griz player turned up the intensity to carry Bengals down the stretch. That led to 23 points, 18 rebounds and eight steals in the 46-34 AA Western Conference home win.
Along the way she surpassed the 1,000-point mark. She now has 1,005 career points, and can reach the school record of 1,099 by the end of the season, coach Eric Peterson said.
"I knew about the number, but I wasn't thinking about it," Pickens said. "I was more concerned about the win. I had to play more aggressively. That's my game. Coach always tells that no one can stop if I go after it aggressively."
The Bengals (13-0, 7-0) were dominant in the first half and led 30-15 at intermission. Their full-court press was working and the offense ran smoothly.
That all changed in the second half. Hellgate coach Rob Henthorn challenge his team to come out more aggressively, and the Knights (8-5, 4-3) responded.
"We need to execute better, and we did in the second half," Henthorn said. "We had to defend better and run the offense, and trust the process. We are a better team than we were in the first half."
Bailee Sayler led the way for the Knights as the only double-digit scorer with 11 points. It was challenging for the team offensively against Helena's height advantage.
When the Bengals showed vulnerability, the Knights knew how to exploit the weakness. Henthorn, however, gave the Bengals credit for holding on to the win.
"They are No. 1 in the state, athletic, long and have size," Henthorn said. "We were trying stay with them, and our girls did a good job of that to the end."
Hellgate's comeback was also helped by the Bengals being in foul trouble. Nine team fouls came in the third quarter. Hellgate, however, was only 6-for-16 from the free-throw line.
Pickens picked up two quick fouls and a third midway through the third quarter sent her to the bench. Ball handler Vanessa Walsh reach her fourth and also went to the bench.
"Jamie and Vanessa were on the bench at the same time, and that doesn't happen often," Peterson said. "It was good that it happened, so we can experience that. It doesn't matter who is on the floor, we have adjust."
The regular lineup returned for the Bengals in the fourth quarter, which led to finishing the game strong despite Hellgate's newfound confidence.
"That was on us," Pickens said of the third-quarter lapse. "They are a good team and they know how to get to the basket. It was us reaching in on them."
Peterson felt it was a good experience for his bench to be pressed into action during crucial moments.
Foul trouble can change the whole approach by a normally swarming defense.
"It was a good thing we had a game like this; adversity is good for us," Pickens said. "It will help us prepare for the state tournament. We'll know how to get out of it better in the future."