They’ve been two of the superior teams this season, but it took some previous season down moments to motivate them to reach the big school state championship game this season.
The driving force behind Basha this season was last year’s state semifinal defeat to Mesa at Grand Canyon University. Through the thin GCU locker room walls, Basha sat quietly as it heard Mesa’s loud celebration.
“We didn’t want it to happen again like last year, coming into the locker room and listening to another team,” Basha’s Gabe McGlothan said. “What happened last year was upsetting.”
For Corona del Sol, last year’s exit in the second round prompted questions about whether the program could win another title with a new coach and the players who stuck with the program.
Corona del Sol had won four titles in a row prior to last year’s early playoff exit.
“A lot of people thought we fell off,” Corona del Sol’s Saban Lee said. “We definitely want to make things right, make Corona del Sol a championship team again and make a statement.”
After their state semifinal victories at Gila River Arena Thursday, Corona del Sol and Basha no longer need to talk about the past.
All that’s left to resolve between the top seeds is which team is really the No. 1 program in the 6A Conference this season. They’ll settle that debate Tuesday at Gila River Arena.
Corona del Sol tripped Cesar Chavez, 85-66, in the second semifinal Thursday at Gila River, snapping Cesar Chavez’s 18-game win streak in the process.
A 39-point outing from Lee led the way for Corona del Sol. Unlike the up-tempo Cesar Chavez-Corona del Sol game, the Basha-Desert Vista matchup turned into a physical battle between two athletic teams.
But, unlike last year, Basha didn’t falter in the final minutes of its state semifinal game and defeated Desert Vista 43-38 to advance to the program’s first ever boys basketball title game.
Desert Vista’s trapping led to a lot of Basha turnovers, but Basha’s defense was just as effective, creating 21 Desert Vista turnovers. Desert Vista was held to a season low in points Thursday but the team was still in the game when Wesley Harris’ dunk left the team trailing only by three points with 1:54 remaining. But after a full timeout by Basha, Basha responded to Desert Vista’s big dunk with a bigger dunk of its own.
All it took was two passes after an inbounds play to get the ball in the hands of McGlothan (17 points), who rattled the rim with force but more importantly placed his team ahead 40-35. Desert Vista once again got within three points of the lead down the stretch but couldn’t get any closer.
With 19 points, Caleb Simmons was the only Desert Vista (19-6) player to score in double figures.
Terrell Brown chipped in 11 points for 30-1 Basha.
“The pressure got to us at times, but I’m proud of the way our guys played,” Basha coach Mike Grothaus said.
Although it was a somewhat high scoring game, defense as well as Desert Vista's missed outside shots also played a role in the Corona del Sol-Cesar Chavez game.
Corona del Sol went ahead, 30-28, for the first time in the game with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter, when it shifted to a zone. It stayed in that zone, which Cesar Chavez didn’t see during its 90-89 loss to Corona del Sol on Dec. 8, during the rest of the game.
Alex Barcello scored only seven points in the first half but had 13 in the second half, when Corona del Sol started to pull ahead. Corona del Sol led 37-35 at halftime.
It’s no secret that Lee and Barcello are the focal point, but it helps when a third Corona del Sol player steps up.
Eric Blackweel was that player Thursday, when he scored 14 points and grabbed seven boards. But the game’s MVP was Lee, who was aggressive on offense from outset and finished two steals shy of a triple-double.
He also had a game-high 12 rebounds.
“I felt if we wanted to win this game I had to have a better performance than the last time we played them,” Lee said. “I knew offensively and defensively and being an all-around leader I needed to step it up for this win.”
Tuesday’s meeting will be the first between Basha and 26-3 Corona del Sol this season.
Corona del Sol’s head coach Neil MacDonald was asked after Thursday’s game to name three things his team needs to do to defeat Basha, who will have the height advantage, in the 6A title game.
He said, “Rebounding. Rebounding. And rebounding.”