Mountain Pointe girls basketball coach Justin Hager never gave up on his team making a run at the state title despite a lopsided record in losses to top teams during the season.
The 10th-seeded Pride entered the tournament last week with a 2-7 record against top-10 6A opponents. They finished the regular season with that seventh loss by three to No. 1 Gilbert. Previous top-10 losses were at the hands of Hamilton, Gilbert (twice), Valley Vista, Xavier, Highland and Desert Vista.
Mountain Pointe tossed its lure into the hoops water again Friday night testing No. 2 and defending state champion Hamilton on the Huskies' home floor . They reeled in a big fish -- a 60-56 triumph. Mountain Pointe is now 4-7 against top-10 6A foes and have avenged losses to Xavier Prep and Hamilton.
Mountain Pointe (23-9) moves on to Thursday's 6A semifinals to face No. 3 Valley Vista at 3 p.m. at Gila River Arena. Valley Vista advanced by beating No. 11 Horizon. Hamilton, which had won 12 games in a row and allowed noone to come within 15 points of beating them in that streak, bowed out at 25-4.
"All those games this season prepared us for this," Hager, who moved to the Valley from Yuma Cibola after a successful decade-plus stint there to take over as coach at Mountain Pointe.
The lead belonged to Mountain Pointe for the better part of three quarters and was the Pride's for good from the second period forward. There was no dominant player on offense with four players taking turns with their production. Jenise Strover finished with a team-high 16, followed by Baily Osmer (15), Isela Enriquez (12) and Eve Kulovitz (11). Mountain Pointe shot 71 percent from the field in the first three quarters (21--30). Five of its six baskets in the third period were layups.
Kulovitz's three 3s in the second period were the impetus to Mountain Pointe opening up what was an eight-point lead at half and 8 to 12 point edged most of the third period.
"She a streaky shooter," Hager said of Kulovitz. "She came up big. She's a confident kid, a good spot shooter."
Hamilton, which won the title last year under coach Trevor Neider (Mountain Pointe's coach two years ago), made several runs iat the Pride n the final period after entering that stanza down 45-33. The Huskies, getting 10 points in the final period from junior Maddie Frederick (game-high 21 points), cut the lead to six twice in the first five minutes of the quarter. A three by Courtney Colleary (nine points) once and the other time two free throws by senior post Maya Banks (12 points). Banks had just two points and two shot attempts in the first half.
Things got even tighter in the final 90 seconds. A layup by Banks shaved the lead to 54-51 with 1:13 to go. The lead was 55-53 after Frederick's 15-footer with :58 left. Two free throws by Osmer with :48 seconds and a lyaup by Osmer beating the press with 25 seconds to go made it 59-53. Frederick gave Hamilton one gasp of hope nailing a 3 with 10 seconds left to pull the Huskies within 59-56.
Reserve Lexi Evans made one of two free throw with 8 seconds left for a four-point lead. Frederick fired up a three that missed and time ran out for Hamilton and its bid for a repeat.
"I'm proud of our kids," Hager said. "We got the lead getting defensive stops and shared the basketball well. I"m glad we had enough at the end.'