Boys’ hoops title in doubt, but St. Mary’s awaits girls’ crown

There couldn’t be more contrast between the boys’ and girls’ sides of the Division I brackets at this year’s state basketball tournament.

St. Mary’s High School, the No. 3-ranked team in the nation when the regular season closed, is expected to roll through the playoffs, eventually collecting its second consecutive state championship.  The No. 1-seeded Knights started the process Friday night on their home floor in downtown Phoenix by destroying No. 16 Desert Vista High, 80-34.

But, while St. Mary’s cruises, the No. 1 seed on the boys’ side came within a heartbeat of losing in its first game. Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School needed two overtime periods to earn the right to move on to tomorrow’s quarterfinals.

It wasn’t until Bryan Siefker launched a dead-on three-point attempt to finally pull out a one-point victory over No. 16 Mountain Pointe High School.  And that was after two near-death experiences in which Casey Benson kept Corona alive with three-point shots that carried the Aztecs from regulation into the first overtime, and then again into double overtime.

And, even after Siefker’s trey, the Pride had six seconds left to take the last shot, an apparent buzzer-beater by Khari Holloway that rimmed the hoop before bouncing out and giving Corona the 66-65 win.  Holloway finished the game with 30 points, while Corona was led by Benson’s 28-point performance.

Even though Mountain Pointe was generally considered a better team than it’s No. 16 seeding indicated, this game just points up the fact that it’s anybody’s title this year.

Cesar Chavez High, the No. 2 seed, had to work to get past No. 15 Marcos de Niza High and won that game by just seven points, 70-63, to move on to the quarterfinals.  And the Nos. 3, 4, and 5 seeds also moved on.

No. 3 Pinnacle High School, which entered the season as the top-ranked team in Division I, won big in its only tournament game – but the 73-59 win was over Cienega High School, which was seeded at No. 19.  And the Pioneers, who won 13 straight coming into the state tournament, lost their team leader when senior guard, Drew Bender, re-injured his ankle in practice and will miss the entire tournament.

And, yes, there is still a ‘Cinderella’ team alive to make things even more interesting.  Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School knocked off No. 10 Mountain View High (Mesa) in the first round and then followed that up with a come-from-behind victory over No. 7 Hamilton High Saturday night.  The 42-41 thriller was the second game the Mountain Lions have played on the road.  Tomorrow’s game against Cesar Chavez will at least be on a neutral site since it will be played in Arizona State‘s Wells Fargo Arena.

The girls will play their Division I quarterfinal contests today and tonight, also at Wells Fargo.  In an unusual occurance, all of the top eight seeds are still alive, which means St. Mary’s will have to work its way through at least three of them, beginning tonight with No. 8 Chandler High, which put up 70 points on Friday night – albeit against No. 24 Chaparral High.

The likely opponent for the Knights would be either No. 2 Highland High or No. 3 Pinnacle, coming through the other side of the brackets.  Pinnacle got a chance to match up against St. Mary’s in the MLK Classic last month and held their own through three quarters before losing, 63-43, in a game that was much closer than the final scored indicated.  But the north Phoenix squad finished out the season with some impressive lop-sided wins and put together a seven-game streak to give them some momentum.

With that said, neither Pinnacle or Highland have the kind of D-1 talent that adorns the St. Mary’s roster.  Once again, the Knights are too much for any of this state’s teams.  They haven’t lost to an Arizona team in two years.

And it’s not likely to happen this year, either.