Bio

DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Sometimes, slow works as well as fast in hoops

 There’s something to be said about sprinting up and down the basketball floor on fast breaks or pulling up quickly for a high-percentage shot, but sometimes, out of necessity, a team has to . . .

Slow

the

ball

down.

So Xavier Prep’s Gators did that, along with playing some tough defense against visiting Mesa High, to earn a 40-30 victory in a 6A Conference quarterfinal game on Friday night (March 12) at the Activity Center.

The Gators had been averaging 61 points entering the game, but made things work here despite scoring a third fewer than the average.

Third-seeded Xavier (13-3) advances to a semifinal game on Wednesday (March 17) at second-seeded Surprise Valley Vista (7 p.m.). Those two have had a good rivalry in recent years, mainly in the state tournament, although Valley Vista (16-1) defeated XCP 62-45 in the regular-season opener for both schools on Jan. 20 at Xavier. Valley Vista defeated No. 10 Tucson Rincon/University 95-48 in the quarters.

Valley Vista’s only loss was to Chandler Hamilton, now the top-seeded team in the tournament. Hamilton defeated Xavier twice during the regular season.

Hamilton advanced to the semis with a 56-46 win over No. 8 seed and Premier Region rival Gilbert Perry, and will meet No. 4 Mesa Dobson on Wednesday at Hamilton. Dobson defeated No. 5 seed Mesa Westwood 50-37 in the quarters.

Xavier began the game against Mesa with some of its players having discarded their masks previously mandated by the Arizona Interscholastic Association and which recently relaxed the rule.

Fifth-seeded Mesa’s Jackrabbits got a good look at Xavier’s fresh faces, with their in-your-face defense for most of the first half. That had Xavier slowing the ball down and/or misfiring on many occasions. Mesa clung to a 15-11 lead at halftime.

The Gators outscored Mesa 13-5 in the third and showed signs of an offense, while increasing its defensive presence at the opposite end.

Freshman guard Sarah Miller and sophomore forward/guard Mia Davis were the primary point-producers for the game. Miller scored 14 to match her team-leading rebounding total, and Davis scored 12.

Miller got the Gators going in the third quarter by scoring the first six points of the period with a basket, a free throw and a three-point play.

She made perhaps the game’s top play with about 4 ½ minutes left in the contest when she drove through traffic from right to left down the baseline and scored on a reverse layup. The right-handed shooting Miller converted the play with her left hand.

The Gator defense continued to wear down the Jackrabbits. Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said she wanted her players to focus on the backcourt tandem of junior Mackenzie Shivers and sophomore Ashiian Hunter, who led the team in scoring most of the year.

Hunter had scored eight of the team’s 11 points in overtime after Shivers had fouled out in regulation to lead Mesa to a 69-63 win over No. 11 Phoenix Pinnacle in the first round.

Gillom said, “If we could shut down one of them, we would be fine.’’

She could take a breath after Hunter tallied just four points to offset Shivers’ 22.

“They say that defense wins championships, and that’s what won it for us,’’ Gillom said. “And we got the offense when we needed it.’’

The coach continued to sing the praises of Miller, who is part of a freshman backcourt triumvirate along with Dominique Nesland and Maureen Ulrich.

“Sarah Miller just seems to improve game after game, and the rest follow suit,’’ Gillom said.


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