Yes, the Millennium High School girls basketball team beat pre-season favorite Desert Vista High in the regular season. But that was in the first week on the schedule, when both teams were still getting their legs. And besides, it was just a four-point win. Not a big deal, right?
Then Desert Vista, which was generally considered the favorite to win it all this season, got right back onto the winning track and beat their next four opponents by a combined score of 321-95. And then when the two teams met up again at the Nike Tournament of Champions during the Christmas holidays, the Thunder buried Millennium this time, 66-42.
Yep, that first Millennium win must have been just a fluke, everyone thought.
But, as Game Day’s Lee Corso would say… not so fast.
Millennium stunned the prep community last night by knocking off the heavily-favored and top-seeded Desert Vista squad, beating them in the semifinals, 52-43, after leading almost the entire game.
Desert Vista (29-4) came into the tournament on an 18-game winning streak, beat Hamilton High by 23 points to win the super-sectional title, and then rolled through the earlier rounds of the tournament by beating No. 16-seeded Mesa Mountain View High School by 25 points and No. 8 Mesquite High by 19.
However, they couldn’t hold off one more team to get a shot at repeating for a second straight state title. Last night, the Millennium Tigers were the better team. The Thunder appeared to be having an off-night – they hit just one of 17 attempts from behind the arc – but give Millennium a lot of credit for keeping their opponent at arm’s length for the full 32 minutes.
Millennium (28-4) led by four points after the first quarter and took a slim 22-19 lead into halftime. Although Desert Vista did manage to close the gap to a single point in the third quarter, the underdog Tigers hung on to the lead with hard-nosed, physical play and an offense that operated at full-throttle, challenging Desert Vista’s defense throughout.
Quynne Huggins, Millennium’s 5’11” shooting guard, led all scorers with 19 points and added 17 rebounds and three blocks. Her back court teammate, the 5’5″ junior point Raina Perez, added 16 points and four assists.
Desert Vista was led by a couple of D-I commits, seniors Kristine Anigwe and Sabrina Haines. Anigwe (Cal Bears) finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Haines (ASU) contributed 13 points to the losing effort.
But wait… there’s more. In the other Division I semifinal game, Dobson High took its turn at rocking the tournament by upsetting No. 2-seed Liberty High School, coming back from an early deficit to wrap up a 59-52 victory to return to the state title game for the first time in five years.
When Dobson’s point guard and senior leader Dyesha Stanley went down midway through the first quarter with a knee injury, it looked like Liberty was goning to have a much easier time the rest of the way. But her teammates were able to hold the fort until she returned to start the second half and the Mustangs were able to take a one-point lead going into the fourth quarter, build it to six points with less than a minute to play, and then hold off a Liberty rally by canning four free throws in the final seconds.
Both team got double-digit scoring from more than one starter, but it was Dobson’s depth that spelled the difference on the night. The Mustangs’ bench outscored the Liberty reserves 17-0.
Dobson (29-2) had three scorers in double digits, with senior guard Alexis Todd leading the way with 13, followed by Kayla Clark with 12 and Shamara Troupe with 11. Liberty (28-4) got its usual big offensive contribution from its leading scorer and senior captain, Courtney Christmas, who finished the night with 18 points, just a hair under her season average of 20 pts. – although all but six points were scored in the first half. Her junior back court mate, Jenae Lewallen, added 17 points.
Stanley will have a couple of days to rest her sprained left knee before Monday afternoon when the two teams meet in the 4 p.m. championship game at Gila River Arena.
…in a match-up that no one would have predicted when the season began.