GLENDALE — Winslow leading scorer Shandiin Armao did not have the type of game she wanted in the quarterfinals against Safford on Monday. The sophomore got in foul trouble and finished with just four points.
The foul trouble reared its ugly head again Friday in Winslow’s semifinal matchup against Holbrook, but Armao roared right back, scoring a career-high 32 point and pulling down 15 rebounds to lead Winslow to a 69-46 win at Jobing.com Arena.
Winslow (26-5) will face Sanders Valley for the Division III title on the same court Saturday at 8 p.m. It will be Winslow’s second straight championship game appearance. Winslow lost to Page by eight in last year’s final.
“These kids have worked hard,” Winslow coach Jerron Jordan said. “We made a commitment last year after we lost to Page that we would work harder and take that experience and that last lesson and build on that.”
Armao was all kinds of unstoppable against Holbrook (23-13), shooting 10 of 15 from the field and hardly ever more than four feet from the hoop. The sophomore had 17 points at the half, more than any Holbrook player totaled for the entire game.
Along with Halle Hayes’ 11 points and 11 boards, Winslow owned the paint, outscoring Holbrook 46-12 down low and 24-14 on second-chance points.
“Halle’s more of a defensive specialist, but she has the ability to score, and she always has good games against Holbrook,” Jordan said. “When she’s effective like that, it makes things easier for Shandiin. It takes a lot of pressure off her.”
Holbrook got as close as 31-28 late in the second quarter, but Winslow reeled off six unanswered points to lead 37-28 at the half.
Armao picked up her third foul early in the third, but Jordan opted to keep his star sophomore in rather than sit her, even with the game far from put away. And Armao wasn’t about to put herself on the bench with another quick foul.
“It’s a lot of restraint and responsibility,” she said. “You’ve just got to know when to lay off. You don’t ever want to give up a bucket, but if it’s close enough, you’ve just got to get your hands up and try not to foul.”
It helped that Winslow switched to its secondary defense, a 2-3 zone used to frustrate Holbrook’s shooters. In that defense, Armao anchors the middle as the last line of defense if an opposing player breaks through the outer shell. Friday, not many did.
“They’re perfect,” Armao said of her teammates. “They don’t let anybody through and I don’t have to go risk getting another foul.”
Holbrook was led by12 points from Kaynasa Curley and 10 from Starla Smith. Marcella Joe had 10 points for Winslow.
As a program, Winslow as a wealth of title game experience, having appeared in 17 finals and won eight championships, most recently in 2010. But the memory of the loss to Page last season still hurts.
“It was the worst feeling,” Armao said. “It was terrible walking off the court knowing we didn’t get the gold ball. But we’re pretty driven this year and we’re going to get it.”