Snowflake, which lost the No. 1 seed in the Division III boys basketball tournament after losing its only game against a peer in the sectional final, looked like the best team left Friday when it hit the gas pedal midway through the third quarter and turned a tight game into a layup clinic.
Seventh-seeded Snowflake attempted one 3-pointer in the second half, and scored all but one of its baskets on layups after falling behind 37-33 in the third quarter and rolling to a 60-52 victory over Tucson Palo Verde at Gila River Arena in Glendale.
“I don’t care about the 3-point shot,” Snowflake coach Andy Wood said. “I think we made one tonight. Everything else was inside the paint.”
Actually, Snowflake made two 3-pointers. But who’s counting when you can create fast-break points.
Snowflake’s trapping, half-court defense led to turnovers, which led to layups, leaving Palo Verde wondering what hit it after starting the game off so well.
“It was their defense,” Palo Verde coach Jimmie Nelson Jr., said. “That was kind of our Achilles heel all year, dealing with the pressure and knowing what to do with it.”
Guard Kurt Wood, the coach’s son, had 12 points and 13 assists to lead the comeback and power Snowflake (28-3) into Saturday’s 4 p.m. state championship game at Gila River Arena against the winner of Friday’s late semifinal between San Tan Valley Combs and Thatcher.
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“We’re practicing transition every day, that’s how we get points on the board,” Kurt Wood said.
Snowflake fell behind 10-2 in the first four-and-a-half minutes, before Wood sparked a 6-0 run.
In the second quarter, Palo Verde guard Marwan Thomas was lights out shooting the ball.
He made four 3-pointers, including three in a row, and Palo Verde (17-12) had a 27-19 lead with three minutes left in the half.
Again, Snowflake’s defense bothered Palo Verde, and Snowflake closed the half with a 7-0 run to cut the lead to one with Wood feeding Jordan Gardner for a layup that turned into a three-point play, Wood hitting two free throws and center Travis Flake scoring inside.
2015 BOYS STATE BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
Gilbert Christian’s Mitch Lightfoot gets a slam dunk against Arcadia in their Division II boys basketball championship game Monday, March 2, 2015 in Glendale.
Forward Danny Hunt’s three-point play with 3:47 left in the third quarter gave Palo Verde a 37-33 lead.
What happened next was a blur.
Trap, pressure, steal, layup. Over and over.
Snowflake made five layups and Tanner Crosby swished a 3 in a devastating 13-0 run to finish the quarter.
The lead got to 50-39 in the first two minutes of the final quarter, and Snowflake didn’t let Palo Verde get within eight the rest of the way.
“Our defense leads to our offense,” Andy Wood said. “Our guys worked their tails off. Our defensive intensity leads to our offense in transition, and that’s what we’re all about. We love it.”
Palo Verde finished the regular season as the 18th seed, but got a No. 6 seeding by winning its sectional.
It peaked at the right time, but Snowflake was determined to match its football team and get to the state championship game.
“All the credit goes to Snowflake because they made adjustments,” Nelson said. “They adjusted against Marwan Thomas, who was getting shots in the corner in the first half. We kind of got away from him.”
Thomas finished with 18 points, but he had only two in the second half.