West Valley Preps
Losing your leading scorer to a concussion while trailing your rival by nine late in the third quarter is not a recipe for success.
But when sophomore wing Kiran Oliver came down from a scrum inside with a bloodied nose and the head injury, Shadow Ridge trailed 50-41 on Valley Vista’s court Tuesday.
In the final 10 minutes without Oliver (13 points per game), the Stallions dug deep to outscore the Monsoon 20-10. The 61-60 victory clinched the 6A Southwest Region title and a play-in game at home Friday night for Shadow Ridge (18-5 overall, 13-5 regular season).
“Ky’s one of our leaders and a good kid. It’s a pretty close-knit group. He’s a move in from Chicago but he’s a kid that these kids really respect and love,” Shadow Ridge coach Robert Bohon said. “Last year in 5A, we lost some region games like this. So this is pretty sweet. Last year we were right there. This year these kids were able to finish it and I’m very, very proud for them.”
Senior guard CJ Davis scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half to help erase a 14-point halftime deficit. Junior guard Donovan Johnson stepped up in Oliver’s absence with 11 points.
More than anything, though, the visitors picked up the season sweep because junior center Anthony Garza simply would not let them lose. He led all players with 20 points and 11 rebounds and wreaked havoc with his 6-7 frame on the smaller Monsoon.
“I though about all week. I didn’t want us to be in another buzzer beater situation,” Garza said. “Knowing these (Valley Vista) players that I grew up with, I kind of read their movements.”
In the fourth quarter, that included roaming at the top of the Stallions’ zone, trapping ballhandlers and chasing senior guards Sydney Thomas, King Thurman and Josh Holloway.
“Anthony likes to defer to people and is a very old-school player. He really stepped up tonight,” Bohon said. “Donovan and CJ are two very good defensive players. Valley Vista is a very quick team and it helps when you have two point guards out there. We (have Garza pressure) in practice and it’s kind of something we wanted to save some of that for next week. When you have a 6-7 guy that can move like that, the whole team can step up,”
Garza ended the third by finishing Davis’ alley-oop. He scored on a putback and Johnson’s bucket the next time down cut the Stallions’ deficit to 50-49.
Senior guard Josiah Jackson and Thurman struck back for a 54-49 advantage. Johnson and Carter Hall answered, and with 3:43 remaining Davis knocked down a short jumper for Shadow Ridge’s first lead.
Then Johnson missed five of six free throws. Valley Vista senior forward Kam Thorn tied it on a tip in with 1:22 left.
Garza broke the tie for good after finishing a baseline up-and-under move. Thorn was fouled after another offensive rebound and made one of two.
“We’re probably playing Friday and Kam is a big part of that. At one point he got emotions because we kind of pointed out that he was getting out-rebounded ” Isai said “The foul count in never in our favor in the fourth quarter. I’m not saying we don’t foul. One thing we do really well. But when you have to play a little differently because every time you touch somebody, you’re assuming the ref will make a call.”
Senior guard Caleb Greishaber picked an ideal time for his only basket, scoring to set up a potential three-point play in the final 30 seconds. He missed the free throw and Garza missed his first attempt after rebounding a Valley Vista miss.
But Garza’s second shot was true, putting the game out of reach at 61-57 with 6.6 seconds remaining. Holloway drained a three, but it was at the buzzer.
“It felt like honey on a biscuit from Popeye’s,” Garza said. “To me, (tonight was) an awakening. I’ve got to be more confident in my shot and more aggressive than I have been.”
The big man was all the visitors had going for them in the first quarter, as he poured in 11 of their first 16 points.
Oliver was in the midst of a tough shooting night when he was injured, and he finished with four points. However, the 6-3 sophomore used his length and second-jump ability to snatch eight rebounds in basically half a game.
“We were losing one of the bounciest wings and best sophomores in the state, who can move and play defense. It’s a crazy thing to think about,” Garza said.
The Stallions only fear is that they’ll have to do it again with their season on the line. Oliver will be in the concussion protocol and his availability for Friday night is up in the air.
Shadow Ridge’s first season in 6A will continue with a home play-in game that night. The Stallions were ranked No. 13 entering the night.
A rematch seemed in the offing, as Valley Vista (14-13, 9-9) came into the game ranked No. 20. However, both teams dropped a spot in the final rankings.
Until the fourth quarter, it looked like the Monsoon would continue their late-season momentum. Holloway and Thurman both finished the half with 11 as they took a 37-23 lead.
As the game wore on, however, Valley Vista went for the big play a bit too much – and had some good looks bounce out.
“I think we got emotional in the second half. We switched up some matchups on defense. As a coaching staff, we have to go back and see where we failed in a sense of matchups,” Isai said. “We didn’t execute late in the game or secure rebounds. Ultimately we had four or five possessions in a row that caused a downward spiral. Bad shots and bad decisions lead to bad defense.”
Friday night, No. 14 Shadow Ridge will host No. 19 Tucson (15-12, 11-7). The Stallions beat the Badgers 70-47 during an early season tournament in Yuma.
The Stallions have plenty to think about beyond Oliver’s fate. Last season, their final run in 5A, saw a team with a similar record (18-7) get knocked off at home by Scottsdale Chaparral in the play-in.
Valley Vista finished No. 21 and heads to No. 12 Mesa (17-10, 7-3) Friday. The Monsoon are a dangerous low seed, as only three of their losses were by double digits.
“We’ve got a really good team with really good boys. There’s still a lot of lessons for them to learn and I wish I had them another year,” Isai said. “Valley has always had a losing culture. We’ve talked about it in the locker room, it’s like an arrow pointing down. At what point are we going to get it to point up? They’re learning how to fight and now they need to learn how to close the games that mean a lot. We tied Valley’s winningest season with 14 and we still have a chance to break it on Friday. We want to change the culture here.”