Excluding the 3A Conference, which wraps up its quarterfinal games on Tuesday in Prescott Valley, let’s take a look at the other five conference semifinals, with predictions for each.
Thursday at Gila River Arena
No. 3 Phoenix Desert Vista (19-5) vs. No. 2 Chandler Basha (28-1), 6 p.m.
Basha doesn’t want to fall in the semifinals a second year in a row, especially with a team that won 26 in a row and possesses great senior leadership in power forward Gabe McGlothan (14 points and 9.8 rebounds a game) and guards Terrell Brown (15 points a game) and Coleson Struhs (7.8 points). The Bears’ only loss was by two to Gilbert Perry in the final regular-season game. Basha beat state semifinalist Cesar Chavez by 12 early in the season, but it didn’t play Desert Vista and the other semifinalist, Corona del Sol. Desert Vista is a lot like Chavez with long, fast athletes who will try to change the game defensively. The Thunder handled Avondale La Joya (81-74) and Phoenix Brophy Prep (59-53) in its first two state games. Wesley Harris (16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds), Caleb Simmons (12.2 and 5.2) and Noah Baumann (10.2 points) create matchup problems with their length and ability to go outside. But the loss to Perry seems to have taken the pressure off the Bears, whose ability to score inside and outside with patience and suffocating defense should be enough to take the school to its first state final.
Prediction: Basha 57, Desert Vista 54
No. 4 Laveen Cesar Chavez (24-4) vs. No. 1 Tempe Corona del Sol (25-3), 7:30 p.m.
Chavez’s 6-foot-3 wings – Malik Porter, Kaleb Martin and Michael Rogers – are so fast and athletic that they’re a constant matchup problem. Senior point guard Donald Carter is one of the fastest players in the state. He matches up well with either Alex Barcello or Saben Lee. Much of this has to do with how much Corona del Sol can get from its frontline players. This should be a high-scoring, back-and-forth game with some of the state’s best guards matching up. Chavez will have to be disciplined to get to the final. But they’ve got the athletes to win.
Prediction: Cesar Chavez 79, Corona del Sol 77
Final analysis: Cesar Chavez has never won a major state championship in school history. This is coach Gary Lee’s most talented and deepest team. This would be the year to live up to their Champions nickname. But Basha has been the best overall team in 6A since season’s beginning with the minor blip only refueling the tank. Watch for Basha to win it all, 68-61.
Wednesday at Grand Canyon University Arena
No. 15 Peoria Liberty (21-7) vs. No. 3 Phoenix Sunnyslope (25-4), 4:30 p.m.
En route to the semifinals, Liberty matched up well in a win over No. 2 Arcadia, then traveled to beat No. 10 Tucson Sahuaro. Now it gets really tough, but give Liberty tremendous credit. This is the first year it has ever won a state playoff game (three so far) and coach Mark Wood has gotten the Lions to play loose and without reservations as everybody has a green light to shoot. Sunnyslope nearly won the state title last year in the biggest division, and Chris Orozco is poised to have a big game in the block.
Prediction: Sunnyslope 68, Liberty 61
No. 4 Scottsdale Chaparral (22-6) vs. No. 1 Glendale Apollo (25-3), 7:30 p.m.
This has a state final feel. Chaparral’s biggest common opponent is Sunnyslope. Chaparral lost to Sunnyslope 74-72 in double overtime on Dec. 13 with guard Colten Kresl going off for 38 points. Apollo beat Sunnyslope in two close games, the first one an 85-77 triple overtime classic in which guard Holland Woods had 41 points. Apollo and Chaparral have two of the best 5A backcourts with Woods teamed up with Dre Marin and Kresl joined by J.T. Thoman. The Woods-Kresl matchup is worth the price of admission. But the X factor could be Chaparral forward Kai Fletcher, who had 18 rebounds in the three-point quarterfinal win over Sierra Vista Buena. Chaparral is tough on the glass, collecting 19 offensive boards against Buena. That is where Apollo will have to hold its own.
Prediction: Apollo 81, Chaparral 79 (2OT)
Final analysis: The third meeting between rivals Sunnyslope and Apollo should be the best one yet. Expect a back-and-forth game with neither team putting on the brakes. I’ve got Apollo doing it again, winning its first state title since the Prince Amukamara years of three championships in a row (2005-07), with a score of 74-73.
No. 4 Phoenix Moon Valley (24-4) vs. No. 1 Phoenix Shadow Mountain (25-0), 7 p.m. at Glendale Copper Canyon
Shadow Mountain is on a conquer-and-destroy mission to try to get to New York for the eight-team Dick’s Sporting Goods nationals in late March. To do that, the Matadors, led by guards Marcus Shaver, Jaelen House and Jovan Blacksher, need to leave a big impression in the 4A tourney. So far, so good, beating El Mirage Dysart 83-43 and Buckeye 111-43 in the first two rounds. This will be Shadow Mountain’s toughest opponent, facing a school making its deepest run in 16 years. Trevor Thompson has taken Moon Valley to another level at state, averaging 27 points and nine rebounds after averaging 18.2 points in the regular season. Jok Jok is coming off his best game, scoring 23 points in the 74-71 quarterfinal win over Phoenix St. Mary’s. If Moon Valley’s backcourt can handle Shadow Mountain’s pressure, it will be able to slow the game down and won’t get run off the court. A Moon Valley win would arguably be the biggest upset in state tournament history.
Prediction: Shadow Mountain 91, Moon Valley 64
No. 3 Tucson Catalina Foothills (22-5) vs. No. 2 Tucson Salpointe (21-9), 7 p.m. at Tucson Amphitheater
Catalina Foothills has won 12 in a row, including wins by 12 and eight against Salpointe. If Salpointe turns wing Majok Deng loose, he could be trouble for Catalina Foothills, which prides itself in being physical and playing defense. Big point guard Sam Beskind could be the difference down the stretch. But I have a feeling Salpointe turns it around against these guys with its best game of the year.
Prediction: Salpointe 53, Catalina Foothills 47
Final analysis: Salpointe has never won a boys state basketball title. It will come up short again with Shadow Mountain strong enough to win the 6A championship. Watch for Shadow Mountain to simply run and gun its way to a second title in three years, 95-65.
Friday at Prescott Valley Event Center
No. 5 Gilbert Christian (23-5) vs. No. 1 Pima (28-2), 6 p.m.
Pima has won 10 boys basketball state championships, but none since 1984. Gilbert Christian is looking for its second state title in three years under coach Kurt Keener. Gilbert Christian matches up better than any 2A team in the state against Pima because of its size. The Kartchner brothers – Jarrett and Justin – are 6-foot-6 scorers and rebounders, giving the Roughriders an edge in most games. But Gilbert Christian’s 6-7 Nate Graville has been held to eight points in each of the last two playoff games, but the Knights still won easily. If Graville can get on track, this should be a Gilbert Christian win.
Prediction: Gilbert Christian 61, Pima 57
No. 3 San Carlos (24-3) vs. No. 2 Whiteriver Alchesay (32-2), Noon
The 5,100-seat arena won’t be big enough for this game, unless the Arizona Interscholastic Association figures a way to jam much of the Fort Apache Indian reservation inside. Business will be closed for people to attend this one in the middle of the day. These are two of the biggest rivals in the state – at any level. And with the stakes this high, watch for relentless full-court pressure. Alchesay pulled out a 75-72 win at home when they met in late January. Tristen Upton had 22 points and San Juan Slick had 17 in that meeting for Alchesay. The teams combined to make 17 3-pointers, 10 by San Carlos, which got four from Christian Nosie. Expect a classic in this rematch.
Prediction: Alchesay 88, San Carlos 87
Final analysis: Gilbert Christian has turned up the defensive intensity. If it can slow down Alchesay and force bad shots, the bigger Knights will win, 67-59.
Friday at Prescott Valley Event Center
No. 4 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (25-4) vs. No. 1 Tucson The Gregory School (29-1), 3 p.m.
Both bring long winning streaks into the game. The Gregory School, led by the school’s all-time leading scorer Nick Rosquist (29 points a game, 101 of 272 3-pointers), has won its past 22 games. Valley Lutheran has won 14 in a row. Coming off a 57-56 overtime win over St. David should help if Cade Mousel has another big game. He scored 20 points against St. David. But St. David lost by 20 points to The Gregory School this year. This looks like a tough matchup for Valley Lutheran.
Prediction: The Gregory School 69, Valley Lutheran 60
No. 6 Teec Nos Pos Red Mesa (22-7) vs. No. 2 Phoenix NFL Yet (28-2), 9 a.m.
The Red Mesa crowd that will be there will be enough to wake up NFL Yet for this early game. It has the athletes to do it with freshman Tyraill Carrehers and sophomore Shekeedren Bryant, both of whom are averaging close to 20 points a game. Garrett Benally, Red Mesa’s biggest player by four inches at 6-4, should keep Red Mesa in the game. But NFL Yet’s overall athleticism will take over down the stretch.
Prediction: NFL Yet 83, Red Mesa 75
Final analysis: NFL Yet lost one game by forfeit and its only other game to 3A Yuma Catholic in overtime, after it was left with only three players on the roster to use because of players fouling out. Expect NFL Yet to jump out early with its press and sustain it for its first AIA title, beating The Gregory School 68-63.
Suggest human interest stories to Richard Obert at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-316-8827. Follow him at azc_obert.