This is the second in a four-part series examining the four girls basketball divisional state tournaments.
Neither Chandler Seton Catholic nor Vail Cienega missed a beat after battling for the Division II championship last season. Seton and Cienega were far and away the top teams in the division from the beginning this year, and a state-title rematch could be in store.
The bracket features a relatively even mix of Valley teams and Tucson/rural schools, meaning the first two rounds will see plenty of long bus rides as rural teams travel into the Valley and vice versa. It will be interesting to see how much home-court advantage plays into the early stages of the tournament.
BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME
No. 18 Phoenix South Mountain (17-11) at No. 15 Phoenix Arcadia (21-8), 7 p.m. Wednesday
These teams each looked headed for a top-10 seed and perhaps even a first-round bye before faltering down the stretch. South Mountain lost five of its last eight, including its first-round sectional game, and Arcadia dropped four in a row to end the year, also falling in the first round of its sectional. South Mountain has the division’s third-leading scorer in G Najiyyah Pack, who averages 23.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. But Arcadia already has proven it can withstand an onslaught from Pack, beating South Mountain last month in a game that saw the junior score 40 of her team’s 48 points.
TOUGHEST PATH TO THE FINAL
Phoenix Sierra Linda actually might’ve hurt itself by winning its sectional tournament. The victory bumped Sierra Linda, the 10th-ranked team Division II, up to the No. 6 seed. Assuming it wins its second-round game against either No. 22 Goodyear Desert Edge or No. 11 Marana, Sierra Linda then likely would face matchups with Phoenix Thunderbird and Seton Catholic – two of the top three seeds in the tournament.
EASIEST PATH TO THE FINAL
Seton Catholic will take on the winner of South Mountain and Arcadia, and then should have little trouble in the quarterfinals. Of its possible opponents, Yuma Cibola only earned the seventh seed and a first-round bye by winning a weak sectional tournament, and No. 23 Flowing Wells or No. 10 Tucson Sahuaro don’t pose much of a threat, either. Then Seton would just have to survive a likely matchup with Thunderbird in the semifinals.
They say having a great defense gains importance in the playoffs, but so does having a prolific scorer who can neutralize any defense. Fifth-seeded Tucson has that in G/F Alexis Cortez. The 5-foot-11 junior is second in the state at 25.4 points per game, and if she gets hot, Tucson could get on a roll.
FINAL FOUR PREDICTION
No. 1 Cienega, No. 5 Tucson, No. 3 Thunderbird, No. 2 Seton Catholic.
Seton Catholic 48, Cienega 46.