With the high school hitting the holiday break, there will be plenty of basketball still taking place in the many tournaments offered around the state. And that’s when we generally get a good look at a bunch of teams competing in games compacted into a couple of days.
So the ‘big picture’ becomes a little clearer as to where the power lies early in the season.
But it doesn’t take tournament play to realize that the Desert Vista High School girls’ team is going to have little trouble defending the Division I state title it won last year. There are a few legitimate contenders, most notably Chandler’s Hamilton High School and Dobson High in Mesa. But, with the kind of talent and size the Desert Vista Thunder have on the court this season, this championship is still theirs to lose.
And the most amazing part of that speculation about a repeat: last year’s D-I championship was the first-ever for the school in girls’ basketball. They dominated throughout the season, posting a 30-2 record, with the only losses to the same school, Mesquite High. They just never quite figured out how to beat the Wildcats – which bowed out in the state quarter-finals.
This year could easily be a repeat performance, based on early results, and Desert Vista is generally considered the favorite to win it all again. Through nine games, the Thunder are averaging 78 points a game, have outscored opponents 703-297, and have scored 90 or more points three times. One of those games was an embarrassing 91-15 win over Desert Mountain High three games ago.
In their last game before the break, the Thunder ran their record to 8-1 by beating Gilbert’s Highland High, 57-34, in a game that was close for just one half of play. Although Highland was able to keep the margin to just four points at halftime, the superior size and talent of Desert Vista took over in the third quarter as the Thunder went on a 23-point tear to put the game away early.
Just as she did last year, Kristine Anigwe led the way with consistent scoring, rebounding, and defensive intimidation. The 6’4″ senior center who will be playing Pac-12 ball for the California Golden Bears next year topped the stat sheets for both teams with 24 points, while pulling down 11 rebounds, and defending the hoop with three blocks.
Together with fellow senior Sabrina Haynes, they accounted for two-thirds of the Thunder’s scoring. Haynes, another D-I commit who is headed for ASU, kicked in 19 points.
The Thunder has a new head coach again this year, the program’s fourth in four years, but Willie Gray has kept most of the previous offense in place and, fortunately for the team, most of the firepower has returned.
But there’s still some competition laying in the weeds out there. Hamilton, considered by most to be the most likely contender for the title this year, is still undefeated through five games and is averaging 57 points a game. The Huskies have some height of their own, thanks to a couple of transfers. Zayn Dornstauder is a 6’3″ senior from Canada and 6’3″ sophomore Maya Banks transferred in from Verrado High School in Buckeye.
And Dobson is 9-1, with its only loss coming to Hamilton, a one-point decision as December play began. The Mustangs have been a consistently-sound offensive force so far, scoring no fewer than 50 points in any one game, and putting up better than 70 points three times.
Hamilton and Dobson will be among the many teams getting in some extra playing time with holiday tournaments, Desert Vista and Hamilton in the Nike Tournament of Champions and Dobson in the Red Mountain Classic.