McAllen Memorial's Cori Talamantez (4) drives to the basket against Flour Bluff in an area round of the 5A state playoff game at the Los Fresnos Dome on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Los Fresnos. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

LOS FRESNOS — It took McAllen Memorial a few minutes to find its mojo in the team’s return to the area round of the Class 5A girls basketball state playoffs.

Once the Mustangs found it, though, they couldn’t be stopped.

Led by senior point guard Cori Talamantez, junior center Iasia Goldman and one of the most dominant defensive efforts from any team in the Rio Grande Valley this season, Memorial charged ahead of Corpus Christi Flour Bluff without ever looking back.

Goldman and Talamantez combined for 28 points on 9-of-14 shooting to power the Mustangs past the Hornets 40-36 on Thursday afternoon at the Los Fresnos Dome to punch Memorial’s ticket to the regional quarterfinals for the first time in school history.

“We got the momentum right off the bat with scoring so many points,” said Talamantez, who finished with game highs in points (16) and assists (5). “At first, we came into this game being the underdogs … so we came in here with that advantage of playing with nothing to lose.”

“Coach (Clarisse Arredondo) told us to just go out there and play our game because we had nothing to lose,” Goldman said. “We just fought through it and came out victorious.”

The Hornets and Mustangs began their area-round tilt locked in a defensive duel with each side being held scoreless for the first 4 minutes of the first quarter.

Memorial, however, started to find its rhythm after sinking its first shot of the contest with 2:30 left to play during the opening quarter.

That’s when McAllen Memorial seized the momentum for good and surged ahead thanks to a 15-0 run that began at the end of the first and stretched nearly into halftime. The Mustangs suffocated the Hornets defensively and held Flour Bluff to zero made shots during the second quarter to carry an 18-8 edge into intermission.

McAllen Memorial’s Iasia Goldman (32) drives to the basket against Flour Bluff in an area round of the 5A state playoff game at the Los Fresnos Dome on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Los Fresnos. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“Defensively, we knew they weren’t the best 3-point shooters, so we stayed inside the paint,” Talamantez said. “We would help every time on the drive and leave that girl open at the 3-point line because, most likely, they weren’t going to make it. When we were able to close on them like that, we were able to turn the ball over.”

Talamantez pestered the Hornets’ ball handlers all afternoon from the half-court stripe which threw the team’s half-court sets offensively into disarray.

Goldman and junior power forward Anna Heikes, meanwhile, made it their mission to control the paint defensively.

Heikes tallied seven rebounds, while Goldman added nine boards and four blocks — both team highs — as the Mustangs’ frontcourt duo dominated on the low block and forced the Hornets to settle and test their range with contested 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers.

“Our posts were working really well together down low keeping our hands up,” Goldman said. “(Our coaches) told us to stay down low and protect the paint because that’s where all their points came from. When they pulled out, we kept a hand in their face and just played really good defense.”

McAllen Memorial’s Anna Heikes (25) reacts with joy after the buzzer to end an area round of the 5A state playoff game against Flour Bluff at the Los Fresnos Dome on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Los Fresnos. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Flour Bluff mounted a second-half comeback effort that peaked in the fourth quarter.

The Hornets struggled to trim the deficit down to single digits until there were less than 2 minutes to go in the game.

A late 3-pointer from guard Maddie Robinson, who finished with a team-high 11 points, cut Memorial’s lead to six with under a minute to go.

But Talamantez took control late for the Mustangs, dictating the tempo and continually getting back to the free-throw line where she helped seal the deal and rewrite school history in the process.

“It feels really good,” Goldman said. “We knew we had to come out here and get this win to make a statement and that’s what we did. We fought and got the win.”

“We know we’re going to have to work harder and take these (next) practices more seriously than ever because this next team is going to be harder,” Talamantez said. “We just need to keep that in our head. We’re going to have to keep pushing and working hard.”

McAllen Memorial advances to the Region IV-5A regional quarterfinals, where it will face Corpus Christi Veterans at a time and place still to be determined.

Email: amcculloch@themonitor.com

Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch