The VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge has turned into something of a showcase for Corona del Sol High School – and this year was no exception.
Corona, the No. 1 ranked team in Division I and defending state champion, went undefeated through the elite tournament two years ago; lost its only game last year in the tournament finale against California power Pacific Hills High School; and ran through this year’s event undefeated again.
And this year’s final game kept the local fans happy because, unlike last year, it featured two Valley teams.
The Aztecs had some difficulty getting past No. 3 Mountain View High School (Mesa) in the final game, which is where the top teams finally meet after four days of play immediately following Christmas; this tournament does not crown a champion. After 12 consecutive wins this season, it appeared early in the game with Mountain View that the Aztecs’ first loss could be how 2013 would end.
Mountain View ran a red-hot offense in the first half against Corona, draining eight three-point attempts and shooting 55 per cent from the floor. The Toros led by as many as eight points before Corona closed the gap to 37-34 by halftime. It wasn’t until well into the second half that the Aztecs took a lead they wouldn’t relinquish – although the Toros pulled back to within three with just a few minutes left to play.
Corona spread the scoring around as four different players finished in double digits to fuel the 76-68 win. Dan Kuiper, the 6’7″ junior wing, led the way with 20 points and added nine rebounds to the effort, while the other big man, 6’9″ power forward/center Connor MacDougall, had 15 points. The back court accounted for the other two double-digit scorers, as senior point guard Casey Benson contributed 18 points and the freshman off-guard, Alex Barcello, chipped in 13.
Mountain View’s senior guard, Andy Sessions, topped all scorers for the Toros with 19 points.
Local players made up half of the All-Tournament Team this year. The group included Corona’s Kuiper and Benson, Chaparral High‘s junior guard Kenzo Nudo, Mountain View’s 6’9″ senior center Payton Dastrup, and Pinnacle High‘s senior guard/forward Dorian Pickens.
The VisitMesa.com tourney has grown in stature during the six years since it began and is generally considered now one of the elite prep tournaments and one of the best offered during the holidays. Since it includes local teams from different division levels, it give those teams a chance to play other in-state opponents that it wouldn’t normally meet during the season, and it also offers competition from out-of-state schools.
Eleven teams in the field of 16 this year were from within Arizona, with five of the top seven ranked teams in Division I and two of the top four in Division II participating.