Holiday hoops tourneys set stage for prep season’s start

The Thanksgiving holidays give high school athletes a break from the classroom, but not from the basketball court.

The past week was a great opportunity to get a feel for where teams are at this starting point in the season because there are so many tournaments for both boys and girls teams.  And the better teams usually gravitate toward the same tournaments, so you get a look at how they fare against quality competition.

Since the St. Mary‘s girls’ team opted to play in the NGS Tournament in Page, there was more opportunity for the rest of the field down in the Phoenix and Tucson events.  The Knights, who finished last season as not only the Division I state champion but as the unofficial No. 1 team in the nation, will find out-of-state competition in that event that may prove to offer more competition than they can find at home.

They will open the four-day tourney this afternoon with a game against Dixie High School from St. George, Utah. But not before stomping on a couple of in-state opponents, beating Carl Hayden High School, 70-8, and Cesar Chavez High, 84-12. (We just posted an article on  the continuing idiocy of running up scores, so we won’t belabor the point here).  This year’s roster for the Knights includes six Division I commits.

Meanwhile, down on the desert floor, most of the other teams that will be fighting for second place in Division I this season gathered at Highland High School in Gilbert for the annual Lady Hawk Basketball Classic.  Hamilton High in Chandler, the No. 2 ranked team in Division I, didn’t reach the finals this year, but No. 3 Pinnacle High School and No. 4 Mountain Pointe High did.

Both Pinnacle and Mountain Pointe entered the championship game unbeaten this year, but it was the senior guard for Pinnacle, Sydney Wiese, that made the difference for the Pioneers.  Wiese, who will play for Oregon State next year, put up 25 points to lead a second-half surge that propelled Pinnacle to the 76-57 tourney title.

Kaylah Lupoe, the junior center for Mountain Pointe, had 20 points and seven rebounds in the losing effort. Both Wiese and Lupoe were named to the all-tournament team.

For the teams in Division II, the most competitive field was in the Moon Valley Tournament where No. 2 Thunderbird High School won this year’s event by beating No. 4 Arcadia High in the finals, 29-26.  The division’s top-ranked Seton Catholic chose to play in the Lady Hawk tourney, where the Sentinels lost, 41-25, to Highland High, the No. 5 team in Division I, in a match-up for third place in that event.  No. 3 Saguaro High School also opted for the Lady Hawk tournament, but managed to win just two of its five games.

Another display of impressive performances came in the Lady Padres Tournament, where Westview High from Avondale, the No. 9 team in Division I, totally dominated the field as it went undefeated and then won the championship game by 37 points over Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe.  And, in the Goldwater Tournament, Red Mountain High in Mesa went undefeated as well, going 3-0 in the round-robin format.

On the boys’ side… the Fear the Hop Tournament at Mesa High School gave some of the top-ranked teams in Division I a chance to tune up for the start of the regular season’s power-point games.  No. 8 Gilbert High School put in a strong performance in working up to the championship game, beating Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School, 54-39, in the semi-finals to end the Aztecs’ 32-game winning streak.

And then they gave No. 5-ranked Mesa High all they could handle in the championship game before getting beat 51-50 in overtime on an offensive put-back by Felipe Velazco with 12 seconds left.  Mesa got balanced scoring across the roster, but it was Conner Helvig that kept Gilbert in the game, scoring 17 points that included a lay-up with a minute left in the overtime period to put the Tigers up by two and nearly closed out the win.

In Tucson, a couple of out-of-town teams won the Salpointe Tip-off Classic.  Mesa’s Red Mountain High, the No. 9 team in Division I, held off a challenge by Nogales High School in the championship game to win the event.  The score was tied 23-23 at halftime, but Red Mountain stretched the lead in the third quarter and then pulled away in the fourth for the 55-47 win.

Nogales had three players in double figures, led by Andres Marquez‘s 13.  But the hot hand of the night was Red Mountain’s Travis Meeker, who led all scorers with 20 points.