Tucson Tanque Verde has Division III’s leading scorer with guard Gaberil Gaxiola and his 25 points a game. Show Low has perhaps the best player in the White Mountains in 6-foot-1 guard Sean Potter. Phoenix Cortez has a double threat with Christian Hakilimali and Trevan Newman, both averaging more than 20 points a game.
But it comes down to defense, and the teams that can take care of the ball, rebound and defend the best will go the furthest.
It’s why I still like Chandler Valley Christian in Division III, even as a No. 8 seed.
Since Division III starts first, on Tuesday, I’ll break D. III down first.
BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME:
No. 20 Kingman Academy (19-6) at No. 13 Show Low (20-10), Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Show Low’s Sean Potter had 29 points in a 52-50 sectional loss to Snowflake. He had 22 points early in the year against No. 1 seed Lakeside Blue Ridge in a 63-38 win. He also had 32 points against a good Holbrook team. Show Low will go as far as Potter takes it, and the Cougars are in good hands with this hot-shooting player who also averages four rebounds and three steals. Kingman Academy used to play in the Charter Athletic Association. It beat Yuma Catholic late in the season only to lose in the sectional final to Yuma Catholic, which is why it doesn’t have a first-round bye. Kingman Academy also relies on a Potter (no relation), 6-4, 240-pound Breydon Potter, who is averaging about 14 points and 11 rebounds.
No. 22 Pinon (12-11) at No. 11 Scottsdale Christian (21-8), Tuesday, 6 p.m.
Pinon could make SCA’s cramped gym even hotter if fans from the Navajo reservation make it down this early in the tournament early on a work day. Playing reservation schools most of the season toughens up Pinon, and a four-point loss to Fort Defiance Window Rock in the sectional tournament gives it confidence. SCA got stung last year in the state tournament by Tuba City, which beat SCA to punch on nearly every possession with its ability to run and defend. SCA finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in Division III but it lost to Valley Christian 61-51 in sectionals. Not a bad loss. Valley Christian is the defending state champion that was ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season. SCA has good length and will try to take the ball inside to establish the outside game with Sam Ortega and Corbin Lenderink both able to go inside and out.
The bottom bracket appears tougher with No. 2 Cortez riding the momentum of a break-out win against a Christian school (Valley Christian) in the final of its sectional tournament. Cortez will have to face the Yuma Catholic-Tuba City winner on Friday in the second round. Winslow or Snowflake figure to be difficult quarterfinal matchups for Cortez. Then, either Scottsdale Christian or No. 3 Chinle could be waiting in the semifinals. Cortez has the quickness to keep up with reservation teams but does it have the size to offset the bigger Christian schools? Valley Christian is fired up after the 83-69 loss to Cortez in the sectional final on Saturday. It is in the top bracket.
No. 4 San Tan Valley Combs (26-4)
Most of the talk in Division III revolves around the Christian schools and the reservation schools. Quietly, Combs has put together a 24-game winning streak in only its sixth year of varsity competition. It has had a winning season each year since going 1-23 in 2010-11. Carter Aby, a 6-7 senior, is averaging 19.2 points, 14.6 rebounds and 5.4 blocks. But people are wondering who have they played? They blew out Tucson Tanque Verde twice late in the season. They showed they can win the close game, too, beating San Carlos 57-56 in the sectional semifinals. Now is the time it can go the distance. The Coyotes face the Show Low-Kingman Academy winner, then may get Goodyear Estrella Foothills, who came on strong late in the season.
Feb. 27 at Gila River Arena, Glendale
No. 8 Valley Christian (24-7) vs. No. 5 Estrella Foothills (19-7)
Determined VC against red-hot Estrella Foothills, which took 12-game winning streak into tourney.
No. 3 Chinle (21-10) vs. No. 2 Cortez (21-4)
Run-and-gun against run-and-gun.
Valley Christian 63, Cortez 57
Photos: Arizona’s best high school boys basketball programs
The 2014-15 Arizona high school boys basketball season is here. Take a look back at the schools that have won titles in the sport in Arizona since 1985, listed in order of championships.