PRESCOTT VALLEY – The drive by five was helped in great part by quick hands and tough defense.
St. Michael hardly played like a fifth seed and used a 15-point run to end the first quarter as the impetus for St. Michael to beat Rock Point 57-35 to win the 1A Conference girls basketball state championship Saturday at Prescott Valley Event Center.
St. Michael followed up a win over No. 1 Fort Thomas by knocking off the second-seeded Rock Point for its first state championship since 2004. It was the second straight season Rock Point came up short in the state final.
“Our girls really came out determined,” St. Michael coach Carl Adams said. “They had a chip on their shoulder because this team had beaten them before. We talked about how important getting off to a good start was.”
It couldn’t have gotten much better for St. Michael (21-7), which lost to Rock Point in four regular-season meetings.
After falling behind 3-2 on a three-point play by Roan Tsosie, St. Michael reeled off 15 unanswered points in the final 5 minutes, 53 seconds of the first quarter using a trapping defense that created turnovers and easy baskets. Leading 17-3, St. Michael never allowed Rock Point to get closer than 14 points the rest of the way.
“We thought we could get in their heads by getting steals and getting ahead early,” said freshman guard Ali Upshaw, the game’s leading scorer with 22 points and who added four steals. “This time we finished our shots. I am so proud of all the girls. What a great finish.”
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St. Michael pushed its lead to as many as 20 points before settling for a 30-13 halftime advantage. Their defense was so effective that St. Michael had just 11 first-half shots and had 22 turnovers. St. Michael made 10 foul shots in succession in the second half, and despite struggling offensively in the third quarter, it maintained at least a 17-point advantage. It led by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.
“We thought we could rattle them with our defense,” Adams said. “Ali did a great job and so did the others. She pushes the ball. I told her to show me she isn’t a freshman.”
Junior Delila Nakaidinae had 16 points and eight rebounds. Sydney Terry led the defense with six steals as St. Michael finished with 17. Jaylynn Smith had six assists.
It was a disappointing end for Rock Point (23-7), which never got in sync offensively in having a 15-game win streak snapped. Additionally, Rock Point struggled at the foul line, making just 4 of 16 shots.
“We came out flat,” first-year Rock Point coach Andrew Reed said. “I don’t know what happened. They had a lot of steals. We usually have a lot, as well. We just weren’t as aggressive as we normally are. And we shot poorly at the foul line.”
Crystanya Begay led Rock Point with 15 points and three steals. Tsosie had seven points and eight rebounds.