No. 1 seed Corona del Sol's defensive adjustment late in the first half sparked the Aztecs to a small lead at halftime and their play continued to improve as the second half wore on in a 59-43 victory over No. 16 Mountain Ridge in a 6A first-round boys state tournament game at Corona del Sol.
Corona (24-3) moves on to the quarterfinals to host No. 8 Westview on Saturday Feb. 18 at 6:30 at Corona. Westview knocked off Central in its first-round game. Mountain Ridge, which controlled a good portion of the first half before losing the lead in the final minute of the second quarter, finished 15-13.
Seniors Alex Barcello and Saben Lee -- who else -- pushed Corona out of a sluggish start with defensive intensity. Barcello was the scoring catalyst with a team-high 21 points while Lee finished with 10 points, but his contributiuon centered on rebounds and assists.
Barcello had a great night shooting, making 10 of 13 shots from the field. Lee unofficially grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out seven assists.
Mountain Ridge was the better team much of the first half, taking a 13-10 lead after the first period and holding a 21-16 lead with 2:24 left to the half. Senior forward Jared Rodriguez connected on 14 of his game-high 23 points in the first two quarters. That's the juncture Corona made a change in strategy.
"We switched up to a 1-3-1 trap to get some more pressure," Corona coach Neil MacDonald said. 'You do that you either look like an idiot or a hero. Our two guys (Barcello-Lee) did what they do and everyone else started to follow. Defense got us going."
Corona outsccored Mountain Ridge, 10-2, over the final 2:24 of the quarter to own a 26-23 lead at intermission. Lee scored nine of his 10 points in the third period with a pair of driving layups and a dunk off a steal. Barcello did much the same in keying the run before half, feeding Eric Blackwell for a layup on a fast break and making a steal for his own layup. Most of Barcello's points in the first half were on mid-range jumpers.
Corona's lead expanded the first six minutes of the third period to as many as 11 (38-27), but Rodriguez's third of four threes for the night got Mountain Ridge back to within 38-34. The Aztecs put the game away in the first four minutes of the final period using six points in a row from Barcello and then seven in succession by Melek Alexander (9 points for the game).
MacDonald was pleased with the ultimate outcome and glad the emphasis on focus got through to his team, even if it was a little later than he wanted.
"We hadn't played in eight days so it can take some time to get going," MacDonald said. "On the other hand we had fresh legs. We have to stay focused and work on defense. You have to play defense to win a championship."