Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Trett Wiltbank heads for a shot up the middle during Pima’s 66-51 opening-round win over Gilbert Arete Prep.
Will host No. 6 Phoenix Country Day School on Saturday
By Jon Johnson
PIMA – The Gilbert Arete Prep Chargers gave Pima all they could handle for three quarters but ran out of gas as the Roughriders sailed past them in the fourth en route to a 66-51 victory.
“I knew they would be tough,” said Pima head coach Cliff Thompson. “I watched film on them and it seems like this time of the year very seldom do you see a good team just get blown out and I feel like they’re a pretty good team.”
No. 3 Pima will next host No. 6 Phoenix Country Day School in the quarterfinals on Saturday, March 13, starting at 7 p.m.
It was a back-and-forth affair throughout the entire first half as Arete Prep drew first blood and built an early 6-2 lead. Sophomore Grant Ashby didn’t show any signs of being overwhelmed, however, and took advantage of Arete’s zone defense to pop open in the middle in his first varsity playoff game.
Ashby hit two buckets to tie the game at 6-6 and would end up scoring 8 of his game-high 14 in the opening quarter. Most of his buckets were two feet or closer, and he hit on 7-12 (58.3%) from the field to go along with 9 rebounds.
A shot by Seth Russell at the end of the first and a bucket by Ashby at the start of the second gave a brief 4-point lead to the Roughriders, 16-12. However, Arete Prep’s Brandon Fish nailed two 3-pointers in the second to retake the lead for the Chargers, 18-17, much to the delight of the visiting crowd – who were so engaged and vocal it sounded as if they were the home crowd at times in the first half. Fish ended up being deadly from beyond the arc and shot 5-8 from distance (62.5%) on his way to a team-tying high of 11 points.
Thompson said Pima was only allowed to have its fans purchase 100 tickets due to Arizona Interscholastic Association COVID-19 restrictions on crowd size, and that the other team was allowed to purchase that many as well. While there still were more Pima fans in attendance, in the early quarters the Arete Prep fans just seemed more pumped about being in the game as much as they most certainly were.
After a steal led to a fast break, the Roughriders were down 17-20 but Kaleb Blair tied it up on a 3-pointer. After a free throw by Trett Wiltbank and a steal and bucket by Jacob Brimhall, Pima was up by three, 23-20, but not for long.
Arete Prep’s Toni Atolagbe (11 points) hit a 3-pointer and Wiltbank and Arete Prep’s Matthew McClelland exchanged buckets to tie the game at 25-25.
On what appeared to be perhaps a called play following a timeout, Kenton Skiba took his first shot from distance and buried a 3-pointer to give Pima a 28-25 lead with about two minutes left in the half. Arete Prep came roaring back with two buckets to retake the lead, but Brimhall knocked one down before time was up and Pima went into the locker room with a slim 30-29 lead.
Atolagbe gave Arete Prep an early third-quarter lead with a 3-point bucket, 32-30, but steady as he goes Tim Salyer lead an 8-0 Pima run by hitting a 3-pointer of his own, followed up by a Wiltbank score and another timely 3-pointer by Kaleb Blair (6 points) to put Pima on top 38-32. Salyer ended up with a well-rounded night with 11 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, and no turnovers.
Arete Prep’s deep threat Fish nailed two more 3-pointers in the third to bring the Chargers within three, 43-40, but Skiba answered with a 3-pointer of his own, and Pima went down low to Brimhall (10 points) and Ashby to stretch the lead back to eight at the end of the third quarter, 50-42.
Skiba, who went 3-6 from deep for 9 points on the night, then hit a backbreaking shot from distance and got the foul as well. While he couldn’t complete the possible 4-point play, the shot seemed to demoralize the Chargers, who fell down by double digits for the first time all game.
“I felt that if we got a little bit of separation we could relax a little more,” Thompson said. “Once we hit a few shots that’s how we felt. You could see the whole team relax a little more and weren’t playing on edge anymore.”
As the Roughriders’ defense tightened up, it began to play its delayed offense game by stretching the floor and going one-on-one with the defenders. If an easy layup or shot wasn’t there, they simply threw it back out to another teammate and started the sequence again.
This served two purposes as it ran time off the clock giving Arete Prep fewer chances to make up the difference, and gave the Roughriders high-percentage shots to increase their lead, which they did. This is a favored tactic used by Thompson when his team has a lead, and with no shot clock in high school basketball, it is a smart move.
“It’s really just our five-out offense and we just delay,” Thompson said. “We don’t change what we’re trying to do.”
Arete Prep found itself having to foul to stop the clock, and Wiltbank (11 points) made them pay for it by hitting a bucket and then nailing two free throws the next time down the court.
Brimhall ended the evening’s scoring with a free throw, and the Roughriders defeated the Chargers, 66-51 to move on to the next round.
Pima will next host No. 6 Phoenix Country Day on Saturday, March 13, starting at 7 p.m.
In other local hoops playoff action:
In 3A, the No. 14 Thatcher Eagles (5-5 region, 9-10 overall) fell to No. 3 Snowflake, 39-54.