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Girls hoops: Gilbert drops Casteel, 52-43

January 14, 2020 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

Gilbert's Jaleah Hendrix is defended by Casteel's Autymn Franks in the first quarter of their 5A San Tan Region encounter on Tuesday. Gilbert stayed unbeaten in power-ranking games with a 52-43 triumph. (AzPreps365 photo).

Gilbert girls basketball was expected to fall off some after finishing 5A state runner-up last season and graduating three players who are now playing Division I college hoops. 

The fall off hasn't happened yet.

New coach Dennis Carter's No. 2 ranked Tigers took control of its San Tan Region battle with No. 10 Casteel late in the second quarter and remained steadfast in posting a 52-43 victory Tuesday night at The Jungle.

Senior guard Alayna Benavides-Johnson paced a second-period surge that put Gilbert in front for good. One of two starters back from a year ago - Benavides-Johnson (a.k.a AJ) - reeled off 11 consecutive points of her game-high 23 to turn a 21-16 deficit into a 29-24 hafltime lead. The Tigers exhibited strong defense throughout and made plenty of free throws to reject any serious thoughts of a Casteel comeback in the second half.

Carter wields a mild-mannered demeanor. With a roster chock full of players without a lot of varsity experience, he and his staff have quietly delivered a competitive, hard-working squad.

"We stress  'we is greater than me', Carter said after his team ran its record to 12-5 overall and 9-0 in power-ranking games. "It's all about teamwork. We are young. They've bought in to how I want them to play."

Casteel led early 5-0 and managed a 16-14 lead after the first eight minutes. That lead grew until Benavides-Johnson started her scoring run with 2:57 left before halftime. Benavides-Johnson was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line in her burst, sank the Tigers lone three and made a nice driving layup. She finished 8 of 8 from the line and connected on 7 of 12 field-goals

Also producing a strong performance for Gilbert was sophomore point guard Jaleah Hendrix. Hendrix finished with 10 points. She played point guard on the JV team last year.

Casteel (10-8, 8-2 prg) wasn't too shabby last year either, reaching the semifinals where it was eliminated by eventual champion Millennium. The Colts brought back a very experienced squad with four returning starters. Junior Daeja Johnson, who led Casteel in scoring last year, is doing so again at 15.5 per game, Johnson scored a team-high 19 points in this one - 10 in the final period. Casteel trailed 38-31 heading to the final period, but couldn't draw closer than five - that in the opening minute of the quarter. Teammate Autymn Franks followed Johnson in scoring with 10 points - all in the first half.