The teams with the ability to win the 6A girls basketball title this season can be counted on one hand -- two in the East Valley and two in the West Valley.
Hamilton and Gilbert are the East Valley's best. Millennium and Valley Vista the top squads from the West Valley. Even among this quartet, the smart money for eventual champ rests with defending champion Hamilton.
First-round matchups are Tuesday Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. They are: #16 Mesa at #1 Gilbert; #9 Desert Vista at #8 Highland; #12 Perry at #5 Tucson; #13 Desert Mountain at #4 Millennium; #14 Sandra Day O'Connor at #3 Valley Vista; #11 Horizon at #6 Chandler; #10 Mountain Pointe at #7 Xavier Prep and #15 Red Mountain at #2 Hamilton.
Here's a glance at the top 4 seeds, likely. Hamilton, Gilbert, Millennium and Valley Vista the teams who will grace the final four come Feb. 23:
Hamilton (24-3): The Huskies endured one hiccup and that was in December when standout junior Maddie Frederick, went down with an injury. All three losses occurred while she was out or hobbled. Since her return Hamilton has won 11 games in a row and noone has come closer than 15 points of beating them. Frederick is averaging 16 points a game and senior post Maya Banks is chipping in 13.5 per outing. Veterans from last year's title run - Courtney Colleary, Hannah White and Cardi Harris -- make a formidable presence.
Gilbert (24-2): The Tigers were the only team in 6A to win all its power-ranking games (18-0) and have a lengthy winning streak (14 games) intact heading to tournament play. They haven't lost to an Arizona team on one hand, but have not played any team in the top seven of the 6A power-rankings. They play together led by sophomore twins Haley and Hanna Cavinder, averaging 18 and 16 points a game, respectively. Not a deep team, but contributions from Stacy Hock, Shayla Huskey and Tiffany Hurd complement perimeter and penetration game of the Cavinders.
Millennium (21-7): The Tigers are easily the youngest team of the top contenders with only one senior among its top seven players. Millennium was blasted by Hamilton in early December and split two meetings with another contender, Valley Vista, the last couple of weeks. They lost all four games in a tough Nike TOC division in December. Top players are sophomores Dominique Phillips (14.2 ppg), Alaina Diggs (9.7 ppg), Alexyss Newman (7.9 ppg), freshman Ali Zelaya (10.1 ppg) and senior Alexis Vaughn (8 ppg).
Valley Vista (19-6): The Monsoon are an experienced squad, hungry to take an extra step to the title game this time. They lost in the quarters two years ago to Millennium and semis last year to Hamilton. Junior point guard Taylor Chavez is as good a guard as there is in the state with an all-around game. Junior Clarissa Rodarte and senior Kiara Edwards have been mainstays for three seasons. Chavez is averaging 20 points a game, Rodarte 10 and Edwards 14.5 ppg plus 9.5 rebounds. Edwards has missed a clump of games, but when she plays Valley Vista is at its best. Valley Vista is the only Arizona school to beat Hamilton and lost to top 5A teams Mesquite and Sierra Linda by single digits.
Next-best team: Mountain Pointe. The Pride have enjoyed a solid year (21-9) under coach Justin Hager. They'd be a darkhorse, but are in the toughest bracket. They've played Hamilton, Valley Vista, Xavier, Gilbert, Desert Vista and Highland and lost most of them (2-7), but several were close. The Pride are paced by Jenise Strover and Baily Osmer.