hoops event draws top prep teams from AZ

The gyms are starting to fill up out in Mesa, as 11 high school basketball teams from around Arizona begin testing their mettle against teams they wouldn’t meet anywhere else.

It’s time again for the Basketball Challenge, which has grown over the past four years into one of the best holiday prep events in the country.  Games tipped off this morning at 9 o’clock at Mountain View High School.

An additional team from outside the state has been added this year to make up five of the total 16 in the field.  Perhaps the best news about the out-of-state entries is that Cincinnati’s Archbishop Moeller High School isn’t among them.

Moeller was the only team last year to go 4-0 through the tournament, which wraps up Saturday.  It was kind of a hit-and-run affair since it was the only year the Ohio powerhouse has participated.

The event doesn’t crown a champion, but teams base their success instead on the number of wins.  Three local schools went 3-0: Westwind Prep (Phoenix), Amphitheater High (Tucson) , and Mountain View High (Mesa).

And there were plenty of exciting match-ups that included a double-overtime win by Phoenix’s St. Mary’s High School and two more overtime games on just the second day of the event.

This year’s field from outside Arizona includes South Sioux City High School, which might be considered a favorite since it is 4-0 this season, ranked No. 1, and has won the Nebraska Class B championship the past two years.

(*Update: Corona del Sol not only beat South Sioux City to drop them from the ranks of the unbeaten, but also handed American Fork its only loss as the Aztecs rolled through the field to become the only Arizona team to go unbeaten.  Their average margin of victory was 14 points.)

Bartlett High is the defending Class 4A champion from Alaska and Utah’s American Fork High School is ranked No. 3 in 5A.  Two California schools, Gahr High School in Cerritos and McClymonds High from Oakland, round out the field.

Arizona brings some quality teams to the party, too, this year.  All but three are ranked in the top 10 in their respective divisions.

Mountain Pointe High School from Phoenix, which won the recent Horizon Invitational, is the only team that will enter undefeated after running its record to 8-0.

Four squads have lost just one game this season, including an Amphitheatre team that won the Salpointe Tip-off Classic; Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, winners of the Paradise Valley Invitational; Arcadia High School in Scottsdale; and Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.  All are 11-1, except 9-1 Corona.

The tourney is a great opportunity for teams to gauge their progress at the midway point in the season.  And the quality of the entrants gives them a chance to bang the boards and run the floor with the top-level competition.

Four of them will get a chance to strut their stuff before the cameras, as Cox 7 will be on hand Thursday for the final two games that night.  The first will pit Corona del Sol against South Sioux City, while the nightcap will be a chance to showcase just local talent as Mountain View takes on Desert Vista.

Tonight should offer a great match-up as well.  Corona del Sol, which is ranked No. 2 in Division I, will play Amphitheater, No. 2 in Division II.

But you’ll have to show up at the gym for that one.

(Photo: Mesa Public Schools Athletic Dept./ Robert Sirrine)