Another celebration of high school basketball on MLK Day is in the record books and, as usual, fans who attended the Martin Luther King Basketball Classic games yesterday at Grand Canyon University got a chance to see some of the state’s top talent on the floor.
Unfortunately, what they didn’t get to enjoy were enough competitive games. And that too often seems to be the case over recent years as the commemorative event logs its 11th year.
The boys’ featured event, between the top teams in Division I and Division II was a runaway that Corona del Sol High School, the two-time defending state champion in Division I, won 79-52 over Shadow Mountain High. And the No. 2 team in Division II, Sunnyslope High, rolled over Cesar Chavez High School, 74-40, pulling its starters after just three quarters.
The girls’ game between undefeated Seton Catholic and the defending Division II champion, Saguaro High, offered little drama as well, as Seton dominated the boards, took a double-digit lead into halftime, and then cruised to a 46-37 win. Seton’s Heather Heidl led the offense with 16 points and senior post, Julia Barcello, collected 17 rebounds as the Sentinels dominated on the boards.
The exceptions this year were the boys’ game between Pinnacle High School and Mesa High, that went down to the buzzer as Pinnacle’s senior point guard Trey Ingram drained the winning basket with just a second left on the clock to squeeze out the 60-58 win, and the girls’ contest between Desert Vista High School, an undefeated power this year in Division I, and Mountain Pointe High. Senior guard Maddy Sulka was the game’s top scorer, leading Mountain Pointe to a near-upset of the heavily-favored Desert Vista squad, which fell behind by 11 points in the first quarter and then re-grouped to go on to a 57-53 win.
Last year, Pinnacle High provided the excitement by upsetting Desert Mountain High School, the No. 3 team in Division I, in the showcase game, breaking the Lions’ 12-game winning streak with a 67-62 victory. But the St. Mary’s High School girls’ team, with a roster loaded with D-I college commits, overpowered Pinnacle, 63-43.
The year before was even less fan-friendly as the average margin of victory for the six boys and girls’ teams was 15 points.
When this event began in 2003, it included just girls’ teams playing at Arizona State‘s Wells Fargo Arena. Boys’ team were added shortly after and in recent years games were added in Tucson.
This year all eyes were on the Corona boys’ team as the Aztecs look to be unstoppable in their quest for a third straight state title, becoming just the second team in the last 53 years to win three in a row. Earlier this month, Corona beat the No. 2 team in Division I, Hamilton High, by 35 points and last week took down No. 3 Highland High, 74-61.
The only game Corona has lost this season was to an out-of-state foe when it beat Findlay Prep, the Nevada basketball factory.
For those who showed up yesterday to see the rematch of Corona and Shadow Mountain, they saw a watered down version of the 18-1 Aztecs since 6’9″ senior center Connor MacDougall was out of the line-up, nursing an ankle injury. The two teams also met up at the Hoophall West tournament during the holidays; Corona won that one 84-75, so the only two losses Shadow Mountain has this season are to Corona.
But the fans at the MLK game were still treated to the shooting display that has carried Corona to double-digit wins in all but five games this season.
The senior guard tandem of Russ Davis and Casey Benson rained down three-pointers, with Davis canning six and Benson adding four more in the first half alone; each finished with a team-high 20 points. Corona collected 24 points off three-point shooting in the first half and finished the game with 13 treys.
Shadow Mountain was led by point guard Michael Bibby, with 15 points, and forward Carlos Johnson with 14.