GILBERT, Ariz.—Fred Kroner and Tony Bleill were back courtside throughout the day Tuesday for all the Nike Tournament of Champions action. Once again we offer up the take of these two talented writers on the competition, people and stories that make the TOC special each year.
To see their day one coverage, follow the link below.
IN SEARCH OF HOME
Mesquite High School is one of three sites being used in the 20th Nike Girls’ Basketball Tournament of Champions event this week.
It’s also the home of a solid girls’ basketball program, one which played for an Arizona state championship earlier in 2016 and one which has won 13 of 14 games this season.
Neither factor helped the Wildcats in their first two games in the John Anderson Division. Mesquite’s opening game was played at its school, but in the auxiliary gymnasium.
Tuesday’s afternoon game took place 9 miles northeast of its school, at Highland High School.
“It’s disappointing to host and you can’t play at home,” Mesquite coach Candice Gonzales said, “but the ball is still round and the hoop is the same distance.”
With her team trailing by six points at halftime on Tuesday, Gonzales didn’t need to say much to motivate the players.
“I told them if we lose, we’d be back here (Highland) the next two days,” she said.
The point was well taken.
Mesquite needed overtime, but dispatched Mater Dei, from Santa Ana, Cal., 61-55, and earned the right to play a semifinal game today at 1:30 in its own gym, against Christ The King.
Mesquite did receive one favor from the organizing committee.
“I requested we not play until after 1 o’clock each day,” Gonzales said.
While other tournament entries are enjoying temperatures in the low 70s when not in action, Mesquite is pulling double duty.
School is in session through Wednesday and Gonzales said, “we have finals this week.”
The Wildcats are focused on all endeavors.
“Most of our girls are A-B students,” she said. “It means a lot to them to get good grades.”
Mesquite, which has an enrollment of about 1,800, trailed by eight points in the final minute of the third quarter. The Wildcats went on to post what can be termed a signature win.
“It doesn’t get us to the state championship, but it’s a great feeling to beat a team that’s higher ranked,” Gonzales said. “It means more rankings-wise.”
Gonzales’ junior daughter Shaylee – a Brigham Young University recruit – scored a game-high 23 points. Another junior, Lindsey VanAllen hit 18 points, including a three-pointer with 13.8 seconds left in regulation that created a 52-52 deadlock.
VanAllen also drained 4 of 5 free throws in the last 32 seconds of OT to clinch the Widcats’ triumph.
“Through their perseverance, we came out on top,” Candice Gonzales said.
Her daughter has been around basketball more than all her life.
“From the time I was pregnant,” Candice Gonzales said.
Though Shaylee Gonzales has been slowed by an illness this week – “I feel she is behind a step,” her mom said – the effort remain unchanged.
“She plays her heart out and is fun to coach,” Candice Gonzales said.
Mater Dei (5-5) was led by seniors Jayda Adams and Cydni Lewis, with 13 points apiece. Junior Sarah Rahon added 11 points for the Monarchs, who more than doubled their lead (17-8) in the opening minute of the second period.
SCHOOL IS IN SESSION
After a two-year absence, Christ The King, from Middle Village, N.Y., returned to the 80-school field this year.
“It’s very expensive, and also we’re missing school,” coach Bob Mackey said, explaining why the trip wasn’t made in recent years.
In order to convince administrators at the school to OK this year’s trip – which costs more than $8,000 (covered by the students and their families) – coach and players made a concession.
“We’ll be on a red-eye flight Thursday night and back for classes on Friday,” he said. “The first class is at 8:05.”
The team is scheduled to land back in its home state around 6 a.m.
It was worth it to be back in the Tournament of Champions field.
“It’s like being home,” Mackey said. “It’s a wonderful thing. This is an outstanding field of players and coaches and it’s well-organized.
“It’s a phenomenal trip.”
While in the Phoenix area, the Royals are making the most of their appearance.
After a 10-point first half, one which ended with the team hitting just one basket in the final 11:06, Christ The King rallied to defeat Archbishop Wood, from Warminster, Pa., 39-24, and move into the semifinals.
The Royals (5-2) started the second half on a 9-0 run and held their opponent to one field goal in the third quarter.
“In the first half, we were settling for jump shots,” Mackey said. “We emphasized getting the ball inside.”
With three starters standing at least 6 foot, and another checking in at 5-10, it was a smart move. Those four teamed up to score 22 of the team’s 29 second-half points.
“Going into this year, the expectations were not that high,” Mackey said. “Last year was a senior-laden team (with six graduating). This team is good, but with a bunch of underclassmen.
“We’re still improving and we’ve had two good back-to-back wins.”
Sophomore Klarke Sconiers and junior Jae’onna Sutton led Christ The King with nine points apiece. Sophomore Kaelynn Satterfield chipped in with eight points.
Archbishop Wood (2-3) was led by junior Katie May’s 10 points.
The roster book is accurate.
Maggie Brown and Blair Schoenwald are high school freshmen. Only their coach doesn’t see it that way.
“They’re really sophomores, ” Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy coach Rhonda Brown said. “Our school can bring them up (to varsity) as eighth-graders to get them ready.”
Brentwood is a small school ready for the big time.
Thanks to the play of its freshmen, the Eagles (8-0) advanced into the semifinals of the John Anderson Division following a 62-51 victory over Our Lady of Good Counsel, from Olney, Md.
Maggie Brown scored 10 of her game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter..Schoenwald had 11 points, including two first-period three-pointers.
“Last year,” Rhonda Brown said, “they were somewhat mortified.”
For now, the college interest in Maggie Brown is mostly regional. Southern Illinois University and Belmont are the early suitors.
The coach – who is no relation – said that will change.
“We come out here to get exposed to different areas,” Rhonda Brown said.
Brentwood used a 21-0 first-half run to build a lead based on its perimeter prowess. Six of the team’s first 10 baskets were from three-point range. None of the final 12 field goals were from long range.
“We’ll try to take what teams are giving us and with their size, that’s what they were giving,” Rhonda Brown said. “Sometimes you win a game in the first quarter and sometimes you lose in the first quarter.
“It was nice we hit those threes.”
Junior Sydni Harvey scored 12 points and Chattanooga recruit Bria Dial added 10 for Brentwood.
Good Counsel (3-4) was led by senior Lindsey Pulliam’s 18 points.
HANDLING THE LOGISTICS
Practice doesn’t start and then a school decides to compete in a Christmas-time basketball tournament. The preparations start months in advance.
Incarnate Word Academy, from St. Louis, started fundraising last summer.
“We usually do one big trip a year and we run a 3-on-3 tourney to help finance it,” coach Dan Rolfes said.
Two years ago, the Red Knights traveled to Naples, Fla.
Last year’s trip was to Washington, D.C.
This year, the squad is spending five days in Arizona.
Rolfes likes the event, but isn’t sure about returning in 2017.
“We try to spread the trips around,” he said.
The work isn’t done when the team arrives in town.
“There’s shoot-arounds to arrange, meals, a lot of stuff when it involves 15- and 16-year-old girls,” Rolfes said. “Each (assistant) coach has a role.
“And, you’re staying up late at night, preparing to play the opponent the next day.”
Rolfes’ squad is in the semifinals of the John Anderson Division following a 54-46 conquest of LaSalle, from Milwaukie, Ore.
Incarnate Word (7-1) never built a lead larger than nine points.”Every time we made a run, they came back,” Rolfes said. “The threes added up.”
LaSalle (3-1) hit eight three-point shots to stay in contention.
Junior Sonya Morris led Incarnate Word with a game-high 21 points. Sophomore Marisa Warren scored 11 points.
Senior Lizzie Sheldon led LaSalle with 13 points. Senior Aleah Goodman and junior Taycee Wedin scored 11 points apiece.
Country Day finds rewards in Arizona
Miami Country Day had to fly 2,400 miles to find some competition. So far, the trip has proven well worth the effort.
The Spartans picked up their second quality win in two days, defeating Long Beach (Calif.) Poly 63-58 Tuesday in a Joe Smith bracket quarterfinal that wasn’t as close as the final score.
“Our job is to get kids ready for the next level and that’s by having them playing against good teams,” Country Day coach Ochiel Swaby said. “That’s what this tournament gives us the opportunity to do and we want to take advantage of that.”
If that means flying to Arizona, so be it. Actually, that’s what Swaby prefers.
“I have a lot of respect for the west coast style of basketball,” he said. “I feel the quality of basketball, from top to bottom, out west is better than on the east coast. When you play these teams out here they really challenge your coaching, and it’s just different. The quality is a little better in my opinion. Last year we didn’t feel like we represented well (losing the first two games) and this year we came out with a chip on our shoulders.”
The Spartans were ready from the start, grabbing a 14-point first-half lead as guards Channise Lewis (Illinois signee) and Kelsey Marshall (Miami) showed why they are Power 5 recruits. Marshall finished with 27 points, including five three-pointers, and Lewis had 18 points. They controlled the flow of the game.
“I was a little nervous coming in against Poly because we had beaten them pretty badly in a game in Naples a couple years ago, and I knew they’d be ready to play,” Swaby said. “I knew they were big but I’m so comfortable with the guards we have. We know if they play their game and we shoot the ball at the level we’re capable of, that we’ll be in most games. That’s our counter to whatever you may have inside. We shoot the ball well and we can handle it pretty well so we felt good about our chances.”
Miami Country Day has won three consecutive state titles, the first team from Dade County to accomplish the feat.
Poly suffered a setback with 1:26 remaining when vaunted post Ayanna Clark (19 points) injured her left leg and did not return. Jasmine Jones added 12 points for the Jackrabbits.
Clovis West impressive again
No team in the Joe Smith bracket has been more impressive in two days than Clovis West of Fresno, Calif. The Golden Eagles thrashed St. John’s College (Washington D.C.) on Monday before burying a consensus top-10 team in Centennial (Las Vegas) 57-42 on Tuesday.
“We have such respect for them,” Clovis West coach Craig Campbell said of Centennial. “I coached against (Centennial’s Karen Weitz) back in my days in Nevada, and so we know each other well. We thought we were capable of being blown out, or winning a close one. We thought, ‘keep it close, give us a chance in the fourth quarter.’ And we jumped out and executed.”
The Golden Eagles led 14-2, 34-13 and 50-24. Only a late Centennial surge made it somewhat respectable.
“That’s the third nationally ranked team we’ve beaten this year, and we lost by one to (Archbishop Mitty, a top-five team),” Campbell said. “That’s a heck of a win against a great team.”
At 9-1, Clovis West is thriving despite the rugged competition. It’s easy to see why, given its five senior starters who are all Division I signees: Arizona State’s Bre’yanna Sanders, Boise State’s Tess Amundsen, UC Santa Barbara’s Sarah Bates and San Jose State’s Danae Marquez and Megan Anderson. A sixth player, sophomore Madison Campbell, has eight scholarship offers.
“We’ve got a great shooting team. I think we’re averaging like 14 threes a game,” Craig Campbell said. “But we beat Long Beach Poly and (Centennial) only hitting six. So we’re not just a three-point shooting team. It shows we can win in other ways.”
Against Centennial, Amundsen finished with 16 while Bates and Adriana Maldonado had nine.
Tip-in lifts Grandview to semis
Alisha Davis’ rebound bucket at the buzzer gave Grandview (Aurora, Colo.) a 44-42 victory against Seton Catholic (Chandler, Ariz.) in a Joe Smith bracket quarterfinal.
With the game tied in the final 15 seconds, coach Josh Ulitzky appeared to be willing to let his team play out the last sequence, but he called a timeout with 7.2 seconds left and drew up a play for UCLA signee Michaela Onyenwere to go one-on-one from the top of the key. She did just that, driving to the bucket but missing the shot, which Davis corralled and put back for the winner.
“I figured (Seton Catholic) would have to run a kid at (Onyenwere), which would free up either Leilah (Vigil) or Alisha to potentially get a tip in,” Ulitzky said. “But I certainly didn’t draw it up that way. I’m going to throw a saddle and ride (Onyenwere) and see what happens.”
Onyenwere, Davis and Vigil each finished with 12 points for the Wolves, who will face Miami Country Day in Wednesday’s semifinals.
For much of the game, it appeared Grandview would be headed to the consolation bracket. Seton Catholic took advantage of Grandview foul trouble – primarily Onyenwere – to lead 25-16 at halftime. The lead grew to 11 before Grandview mounted a comeback, cutting it to one point near the end of the third quarter.
“We didn’t play the way we typically have played (in the first half),” Ulitzky said. “The fouls … We have to adjust to those situations. It was very different than the night before, which was fine. It’s just that we need to do a better job of adjusting. I feel like we deflate a little when our bigs get in foul trouble. We settle a little bit instead of keep attacking.
“(In the second half) they played like they were capable of.”
Grandview led 42-37 with 1:02 to play but missed two front ends of 1-and-1s to open the door for the Sentinels, who tied it with 24 seconds left to set up Davis’ heroics.
Jenn Wirth led Seton Catholic with nine points.
St. Mary’s pounces on Riverdale Baptist
The Smith division quarterfinal between St. Mary’s (Stockton, Calif.) and Riverdale Baptist (Upper Marlboro, Md.) was a rematch of a riveting 2015 championship game at the Nike TOC. One year later, the outcome was the same. St. Mary’s beat the Crusaders 67-43 to advance to face Clovis West in the semis.
Aquira DeCosta showed why she’s one of the nation’s best in the 2018 class, collecting 23 points. Nicole Young added 11 for the Rams, who were never challenged. St. Mary’s led 36-17 at the half, causing Crusaders coach Sam Caldwell to undo his signature bow tie in frustration.
Though the teams were the same, many of the names were different. St. Mary’s graduated two top players (Cal’s Mi’Cole Cayton and Oregon State’s Kat Tudor), while senior Naje Murray (San Diego State signee) is out with an ACL injury. Coach Tom Gonsalves’ starting five Tuesday was comprised of three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.
Riverdale Baptist, meanwhile, graduated its entire starting five.
Both teams are loaded with young talent that’s bound for Division I. St. Mary’s freshman, Amaya Oliver, is a 6-foot-1 forward in the mold of DeCosta. Riverdale Baptist junior Rochelle Norris is a strong-bodied 6-5 post who runs the court well. Both will be heard from in 2017.