All those games against out-of-state teams really paid off for the Shadow Mountain High School boys’ basketball program. The Matadors played five games against some of the better teams in the country, and lost every one of them.
But each one helped them improve.
They lost to a couple of teams from New Jersey, and one each from Nevada, California, and Washington, D.C. Four of the five games were played during December as head coach Mike Bibby used them to prepare his team for the January push toward the playoffs.
That turned out to be little pain for huge gain as the Matadors compiled a 27-5 record, never losing to an Arizona team, and rolled to this year’s Division II state title.
Their run through the state tournament was one of the most dominant performances in recent memory, as the average margin of victory through the four games was 26 points; twice, they topped 80 points.
That culminated in last night’s blow-out 86-55 victory over Agua Fria High School in the championship game at Gila River Arena.
Agua Fria had won 23 straight going into the title game, but, unlike Shadow Mountain, had been challenged throughout the playoffs. Their average margin of victory through the three games leading up to the championship contest was four points.
For Shadow Mountain, this was the culmination of its latest title hunt, which fell short of the goal when the Matadors lost to Gilbert Christian last year in the semifinals. That game was played without their all-star point guard, Michael Bibby, who had missed most of the season with a knee injury.
The coach’s son made the difference this year, playing in all 32 games and finishing his senior season averaging 19.3 points a game. He didn’t even have to finish his final game as his dad pulled him off the floor with 4 1/2 minutes left to play after leading his team to the title with 22 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals. He did everything last night except sell the tickets to get into the game.
The father-son combination has worked well for the Phoenix school the past few years as the Matadors have won two state championships in the three years Bibby Sr. has directed the program. The coach also won a prep title of his own in 1996 when he played the point for Shadow Mountain, before going on to University of Arizona fame, and finally the NBA.
But the younger Bibby was just one-half of a fearsome back court tandem that has been contributing a combined 38 points a game for Shadow Mountain this season. J.J. Rhymes. also a senior, added 18 points and eight rebounds to cap his prep career.
In Division I, it was No. 2-seeded Mesa High School that took home this year’s gold ball trophy, capping a season that was high on expectations early on after the Jackrabbits beat top-ranked Corona del Sol High in the first week on the schedule, snapping the Aztecs’ 70-game winning streak.
Then in December, Mesa won the McClintock Holiday Shootout to help legitimize its claim as the team to beat in D-I. By the end of the season, Corona was back on top and given the top seed in the playoffs. But Mesa was right there as the No. 2 seed, looking to avenge its elimination last year in the quarterfinals.
Corona was stunned by eighth-seeded Sunnyslope in the second round, but Mesa continued on, winning its first three games by an average 15 points to get its shot at taking down Sunnyslope in the championship game.
But the Jackrabbits found out why Corona had trouble with the Vikings as Sunnyslope stepped out to a 12-point lead in the first half and made Mesa work to get within four points at the half. And it took a three-point shot at the buzzer by Drew Hatch to get that close.
Mesa’s defense clamped down in the second half to slow the Sunnyslope attack and regain the lead. But the Vikings hung with Mesa right down to the final buzzer when a Dane Maggi shot from behind the arc fell short. The senior guard finished with 18 points.