You had to see this one coming. The No. 3-seeded Flagstaff High boys’ basketball team has been living on borrowed time throughout the state playoffs and were ripe for getting beat in the championship game this morning.
But who could have foreseen a 25-point blow-out at the hands of No. 8 Shadow Mountain High School?
Shadow Mountain hadn’t been burning up the court on its way to the finals, winning its first three games by single-digit scores. The Matadors from northeast Phoenix beat No. 9 Catalina Foothills by two points in their first game and got past No. 4 Cienega High by three points in the semis. Their one impressive win was a good one, though, when they took down top-seeded Salpointe Catholic in the quarterfinals, 75-66.
However, Flagstaff was making its journey through the playoffs on really thin ice. It beat No. 6 Shadow Ridge High in the quarterfinals by eight points – but had to rally from a second-quarter 18-point deficit to advance to the semi-finals, where they won a 64-62 thriller on a shot at the buzzer in overtime.
This morning at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, the No. 3-seeded Eagles ran out of miracles. Shadow Mountain used runaway shooting (52 percent team shooting), led by Mike Bibby Jr. (27 pts) and Carlos Johnson (26 pts) to build a 46-26 lead at halftime and Flagstaff failed to mount a comeback in the second half, falling 83-58 to give the Matadors their third boys basketball state title and first one in 14 years.
And it was a clear sign that head coach Jerry Conner, who won those first two state titles during his 32 years directing the program, has returned to the program with plans to get back to his winning way. Conner left the school, where he had been the only head coach during its existence, to ‘retire’ from the high-school game and took a couple of short-lived jobs at the college level, most recently directing the women’s program at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t on the bench for this title game. A family funeral took precedence, so Conner turned the reins over to his assistant coach, Mike Bibby, who played at Shadow Mountain before going on to college and NBA fame.
In the girls’ championship game, Seton Catholic also won an additional state title, but for the Sentinels it was their seventh, and the fourth in the last five years – all under current head coach, Karen Self.
The victim this year was Cienega High School, which traveled from the small community of Vail, just outside Tucson, to take a shot at winning its first-ever girls’ basketball title.
And for one half of the game, the Bobcats looked like they might be returning home with the long-sought crown as they out-rebounded Seton and threw up a stiff defense that held the Sentinels to 27 percent shooting from the floor.
Cienega led 16-14 at the half in a low-scoring, grind-it-out contest, but couldn’t hold on when Seton decided to push the pedal to the floor by going on a 10-run in the third quarter and then held off a couple of Cienega rallies in the fourth quarter to post the 37-30 victory.
But the girls were motivated by the need to win the game for their ailing assistant coach, Tiffany Tate, who has been on a waiting list since before the season started for a lung transplant.
Point guard Julia Barcello contributed a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, while LeeAnne Wirth added 10 points as well and her sister, Jennifer, finished with nine points.
Seniors Barcello and Heather Heild, another guard, closed out their prep careers at Seton with three state titles.
And Self became the leader among small-school coaches in Arizona. Her seven state titles is also just one short of the eight owned by Gilbert High‘s Miner Webster in Division I.