If state high school titles are any indicator, this year the balance of power in big-school boys basketball appears to be shifting to the south.
While the college rivalry between Arizona State in Tempe and University of Arizona down the I-10 in Tucson is at the forefront of every athletic contest between the two schools, the north-south rivalry in high school sports is more subtle.
But make no mistake, it is there.
This year, we could see the crowning of south-side schools in three of the four big-school classifications in basketball. While not an extreme rarity, it doesn’t happen all that often.
Nogales (AZ) High School just wrapped up the 4A-I state championship and Tucson’s Amphitheater High added the 4A-II title. Thursday, Buena High School in Sierra Vista will try to get past Mesa’s Mountain View High School to reach Friday’s 5A-I title match-up with either Brophy Prep from Phoenix or Mesa High School.
Nogales, a fifth seed in this year’s state tournament, won its first basketball championship in more than a quarter-century by beating Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School, 57-44, in front of an estimated 12,000 fans at Jobing.com Arena.
The Apaches won back-to-back titles in 1982 and 1983 and have been to the championship match ten times over the years, but the 2011 trophy breaks a long drought for the small border town.
Nogales was up by just three at the half, 22-18, but outscored Saguaro 16-10 in the third quarter and put the game away with a 23-point outburst in the final period. Joseph Monreal fueled the surging Apaches with 14 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 20.
Amphitheater came into the playoffs as the top-ranked team in 4A-II, and had a chip on their shoulders left over from last year when they were beaten by Santa Rita High School in the title game.
The 87-77 win over Tempe High School was the Panthers’ first basketball championship. The squad, led by seven seniors and six juniors, led early in the game, built the lead to 19 points by halftime, and never let up on the gas, leading by 25 points at the midway point of the fourth.
Tim Derksen, the Panthers’ 6’3″ junior guard who averaged almost 18 points a game this season, led the way with 26 points. Tony Lillard, the back-up point guard, added 17.
A heart-stopping 74-73 quarter-final win over No. 9 seed Desert Vista High School in Phoenix gave Buena its ticket to the semis. The Colts opened playoffs with a first-round win over No 16 Kofa High School (Yuma), 57-52.
If Buena (25-4) is going to get past No. 4 Mountain View HS (25-3), which beat No. 5 Corona del Sol HS(Tempe) by 25 points in the quarters, it will need offensive output like it got in Saturday’s game. Senior Devonte Malcolm poured in 24 points, while his junior teammates, Marcus Mears (20 pts) and Marc Matthews (19 pts) rounded out the effort.
In 5A-I, top-ranked Pinnacle HS (Phoenix) will meet fourth-seeded Chaparral HS (Scottsdale) and No. 2 Desert Mountain HS (Scottsdale) will take on Betty Fairfax HS (Laveen). That game will be played tomorrow night.