Maybe high school basketball in Arizona isn’t quite ready for the glare of the national spotlight. Two of the three “marquee” games in last night’s wrap-up of the second annual Hoophall West were lopsided embarrassments.
The third contest, the final of the night and the most anticipated, was also a loss for the locals. But Corona del Sol‘s one-point loss came down to missed free throws in the final minute. The Aztecs struggled a little in the first half as Sierra Canyon took a 37-29 lead at the half, and then came back strong in the second half to give one of California’s top prep teams all they could handle before succumbing, 65-64.
Corona’s loss to Sierra Canyon, ranked earlier in the season as No. 5 in the country, is its first after compiling a 12-0 start coming into this two-day event in Scottsdale. The Tempe school beat the other two top-ranked local teams in the Hoophall West, Pinnacle High School and Shadow Mountain High, in the first part of the tournament in late November that included just in-state teams.
And then Pinnacle and Shadow Mountain were included among the seven local teams that participated in what is called the “national showcase” of the event, played Friday and Saturday at Chaparral High School. Last year the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame expanded its 14-year-old high school tournament that had become a top national event on the east coast, selecting Phoenix to be the site for its west coast expansion. Eight Arizona teams played against one another in that Nov. 25-28 session, called Campus Round pool play.
In the November event, Corona beat Pinnacle 68-65 and posted a 79-74 win over Shadow Mountain. But the step up to the national stage last night proved to be much more difficult, as Pinnacle lost to Findlay Prep of Las Vegas, 72-48, and the Matadors were blown out by DeMatha High School (Maryland), 94-58, in the two games leading up to the showcase game between Corona and Sierra Canyon.
Pinnacle took Corona into overtime in last year’s state championship game and are 10-4 this season, while Shadow Mountain is the reigning D-II state champion and 9-5 after the loss to DeMatha.
But Corona is the top prep program in the state again this year, looking for a fourth consecutive D-I state title, and the team expected to do well against the national powers. Sierra Canyon was last year’s runner-up for the California state title.
The Aztecs are loaded with talent again this year, with a roster full of D-I college prospects. But it was the addition of freshman Marvin Bagley III that has enabled Corona to play on a level with elite teams like those in the Hoophall West field.
Bagley, a 6’10” center/power forward who is considered to be one of the top national recruits in the Class of 2018, was nine-of-10 from the field as he scored 20 points and pulled down five boards against Sierra Canyon. A few days earlier, he piled up 30 points and 11 rebounds against Federal Way High School from Washington in the visitmesa.com tournament.
But it was a series of missed free throws that doomed Bagley and his teammates last night. Senior forward Duane Kuiper, a New Mexico commit, put the Aztecs up 64-62 with just a minute left to play. But Corona couldn’t hold on for the win.
Sophomore point guard Alex Barcello missed the front end of a one-and-one, sophomore forward Cody Riley missed one of his two attempts, and Bagley failed on his one-and-one opportunity in the final 15 seconds.
Corona went 34-1 last season en route to its third straight state title. Even with this loss, the Aztecs are still on track to repeat that impressive accomplishment.
And also wrap up a four-peat, a feat that seems all but certain.