High school basketball fans in southern Arizona have good reason this year to stay involved as the playoffs wind their way toward crowning a boys’ state champion in Division II. Three of the four games in Wednesday’s and Thursday’s boys’ quarterfinals will include Tucson-area teams, with one of those games featuring a pair of southern Arizona schools
And, since two of those teams have top-3 seedings, there’s good reason to think the D-II title may find a resting spot in southern Arizona this season.
No. 2-seeded Cholla Magnet High School and No. 3 Cienega High both had play-ins into the second round, so they’ve only had one game to test themselves in playoff mode, with Cholla getting little challenge from No. 15 Buena High School in that 64-49 rout and Cienega beating No. 14 Tempe High by 10 points and nearly hitting the 80-point plateau in the 79-69 second-round victory.
Cholla showed the kind of offensive firepower in the fourth quarter of that game that has enabled the Chargers to win 21 straight games. Their only loss in compiling a 25-1 season is a 72-61 loss to Central High (Phoenix) at the end of November.
The Chargers blew open a six-point halftime lead against Buena by putting 25 points on the board in the final period to put the win on ice as senior guard Jorge Carrasco led all scorers with 25 points. Two other Chargers were in double digits: senior forward Lual Magot (12) and sophomore guard Ezekiel Alley (11).
Buena was led by a couple of seniors who accounted for all but 12 of the team’s points. Forward Luke Reynolds led with 19 points and guard Rod Springer added 18 to the losing effort.
Cholla won a state title in 1992 but hasn’t been back to the finals since.
Cienega was actually tested more by 14th-seeded Tempe High than the score indicates. Cienega was up just three points at the half and needed overtime to dispatch Tempe in what would have been one of the tournament’s biggest upsets.
But Tempe’s defense couldn’t get a handle on Terrence Johnson. The 6’3″ senior went on a scoring rampage with 31 points, joined by teammate Jordan Green, a freshman who stepped up big in perhaps the most critical win of the season, putting up 16 points that included 10 points from the free throw line.
Cienega didn’t sneak up on anybody in the playoffs. The school, which is located in Vail just outside Tucson, has won 25 games this season and 19 out of the last 20.
The other two southern teams included in quarter-final play are not seeded as highly as Cienega and Cholla, but both had to beat higher seeds to make it to the semifinals.
No. 9 seed Sunnyside High School beat No. 8 Paradise Valley High in the second round in the lowest-scoring game of the tournament so far. Sunnyside put up just 44 points, but it was enough to beat the Trojans, who put together back-to-back 8-point quarters as their offense sputtered in the second and third periods. A five-point output in the third quarter kept Sunyyside’s score down as well.
Not surprisingly, individual scoring numbers were low as well. Junior guard Cesar Ozuna led Sunnyside scorers with 14 points – and was also the game’s high scorer with the performance. For Paradise Valley, Dominic Rogiers, also a junior guard, was the Trojans’ top scorer with 11 points.
Paradise Valley finished its season with 25 wins, while Sunnyside gets a chance to improve on its 25-5 mark.
And the fourth southern team among those still alive will play another opponent from that area as Noglaes (AZ) High School takes on Cienega, thus guaranteeing that at least one team from that side of the state will not be advancing to the semis.
Nogales (25-7) had to get past No. 6 La Joya Community in the second round to get a shot at Cienega. The Apaches beat La Joya 71-64 to set up a re-match with Cienega, who beat them 66-53 in a Jan. 8 meeting at Cienega. But this time the game will be played Thursday on a neutral site at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.
In the other two games, Cholla will play No. 10 Arcadia High School (Scottsdale) in a Thursday game that will also be played at Chaparral, and Sunnyside will be faced with the biggest challenge by taking on the No. 1 seed, Shadow Mountain High School (Phoenix) in a Wednesday game to be played at the Gila River Arena.
Shadow Mountain, which is 22-6 overall and rolled through section play undefeated, will likely be the team standing in the way of a southern Arizona school bringing home a state championship this year.
But this year’s title isn’t a lock – regardless of which side of the state eventually wins it.