Lots of good hoopin’ at MLK Classic, but little suspense

Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena was supposed to be center stage for the top high school basketball talent participating in this year’s MLK Classic.

But, if you were looking for exciting finishes off buzzer-beating shots, the Tempe gym probably wasn’t the best place to be.  The average margin of victory for the six boys’ and girls’ games was 15 points.

Even the much-hyped meeting between the No. 1 and No. 5 girls’ teams in the country turned out be somewhat one-sided.  St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, the top-ranked team in the nation according to the USA Today and ESPN standings, jumped out to a 12-point lead by the end of the first quarter and never let No. 5 Los Angeles Windward back in the game.

The Knights kept their perfect 16-0 record intact as they rolled to a 62-48 win behind junior forward Chantel Osahor‘s 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Both teams are the defending state champs from last year and Windward entered the game with an eight-game winning streak.

But it was Simone Westbrook and Katherine Hamilton who lit up the Wells Fargo scoreboard in Monday’s girls’ opening game that served as a warm-up to the St. Mary’s appearance.

Westbrook, the senior point guard for Chandler High School, scored 30 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead the Wolves to a 73-59 win over Mesa’s Dobson High.  Hamilton countered with 29 points and eight boards for Dobson in the losing effort.

At least for one half, this game held some drama.  Chandler, the No. 3 team in Division I, couldn’t shake off No. 9 Dobson in the early going and went into the half with a slim 32-29 advantage.

But Dobson’s 27 turnovers made it hard to keep Chandler from spreading the lead, and the Wolves also took care of business on the glass by out-rebounding Dobson.

On the boys’ side, the top two teams in Division I capped off the day – but not against each other.

No. 1 Corona del Sol High School in Tempe was given the prime-time slot as the last game of the day, matching up against No. 9 Hamilton High (Chandler).  Another pair of East Valley schools met in the previous game, as No. 2 Basha High School (Chandler) went against No. 8 Gilbert High.

Gilbert pulled off the upset of the day when the Tigers went on a 23-5 run in the fourth quarter to rebound from a nine-point halftime deficit and take down the Tigers, 68-52.

And Corona kept the Huskies at arm’s length throughout the final game to wrap up a 63-47 victory that brought to a close the eighth year that the Martin Luther King holiday has been celebrated with great prep basketball.

The University of Arizona in Tucson and Grand Canyon University in Phoenix also hosted games that were part of the high school potion of the MLK Classic, enabling 16 schools to participate.

Basha’s record dropped to 16-3, despite throwing a balanced scoring attack at the Tigers, led by Jaron Hopkins (14 pts.), Torren Jones (13 pts.), and Maurice Kirby (11 pts.).  Gilbert, which shot 53 percent as a team, rode the hot hand of Freddie Lash, the Bears’ senior guard who piled up 24 points.

In the day’s finale, it was a couple of soon-to-be Sun Devils that led the scoring efforts of both teams.  Corona’s Calaen Robinson poured in 23 points from his guard position to help run the Aztecs’ win streak to 15 games, while 6’10” center, Eric Jacobsen, contributed 18 points for Hamilton and added 15 rebounds as well.

The other two games at the Wells Fargo site, both involving boys’ teams, followed the same pattern of winning margins, as No. 6 Desert Mountain High School beat unranked Westwood High School, 60-47, and No. 7 Pinnacle High ran away from Horizon High, 75-56.