Gilbert Highland was not playing stereotypical Highland basketball in the first half of its Division I, Section II semifinal game against Chandler on Thursday at Mesquite High School.
For one, Highland had 15 turnovers. A whopping seven of them were traveling violations.
“We don’t do that!” coach Miner Webster said, exasperated. “We don’t do that. But we play panicky sometimes when we go against teams that are aggressive and pressure.”
That changed in the second half. Highland won 52-40, committing only one more travel in the process.
Highland, the top-ranked team in the Arizona Interscholastic Association rankings entering the game, will face Chandler Hamilton for the section title at 5:45 Saturday at Mesquite.
The game was tied 20-20 at halftime, but Highland (29-2) cranked up the defensive pressure in the second half. Chandler (17-9) had been outscored 20-8 in the third quarter until Jesse Ossian hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it a nine-point game.
In the fourth quarter, Chandler scored only nine points and didn’t sink a field goal until 1:56 remained in the game.
“Chandler, I think, started to tire a little bit,” Webster said. “They slowed down a little bit.”
“We just went a little cold,” suggested Chandler coach Zon Thompson.
Understandably, Thompson would like to focus more on the first half than the second. He feels his team, nearing double-digit losses, gets no respect despite being ranked eighth in the division by the AIA.
Chandler’s schedule may have something to do with that. According to the AIA’s formula, Chandler has the toughest schedule in the Division, and is one of only three teams in D-I with a double-digit rating of schedule strength.
It’s a slate that has included a three-point loss to Phoenix Pinnacle (5th), two losses to Mesa Dobson (4th), splitting with Hamilton (6th) a loss to Phoenix St. Mary’s (2nd) and three wins over Phoenix Desert Vista (16th).
Thompson believes that experience will help come the state tournament.
“The team has fight,” he said. “That’s all I can say. You underestimate them, you can’t overlook them and you can’t count them out.”
Highland’s Olivia Lucero had 19 points, and Megan Brown had 10. For Chandler, Beatriz Martinez scored 13 points and Jazmyne Bartee had 10.