Organizers are trying to make the Hoophall West Invitational boys basketball tournament a big deal, featuring some of the top teams from Arizona and outside the state.
Dignitaries at Grand Canyon University Arena on Saturday (Dec. 14) included former Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Jerry Colangelo, who has been instrumental in the upgrade of the Grand Canyon campus, spearheaded the move of USA Basketball headquarters to Tempe soon and is chairman of the Naismith Hall of Fame Board.
Also on hand in the front row was former NBA star Ralph Sampson, with another former NBA star on the bench for Phoenix Shadow Mountain, Mike Bibby. The Shadow Mountain and University of Arizona alumnus is listed as an assistant coach for head coach Jerry Conner, but appears to do most of the coaching.
With a state-tournament atmosphere and a lot of media watching in the inaugural event, who wouldn’t want to play well?
Tempe Corona del Sol, Arizona’s defending Division I champion, arrived ready to play its game against Shadow Mountain.
The Aztecs stayed a few steps ahead of Shadow Mountain most of the way in the battle of unbeatens and earned an 84-75 victory.
Guard Casey Benson and big man Connor MacDougall are the most noteworthy players for Corona (7-0), but there are many others who are capable of playing well.
Russ Davis and Dane Kuiper were hot from long range, combining for eight of the Aztecs’ 10 3-point baskets. Corona had five men score in double figures – Kuiper with 17, Davis and Jarrett Givens with 16, Benson with 15 and MacDougall with 13.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound McDougall sat out about half of the third quarter and all of the fourth after jamming his shoulder and hearing a popping sound in a scramble under the basket. Coach Sam Duane was not sure if the shoulder came out of its socket, but said that McDougall would have more tests.
“We don’t think it is too bad,’’ Duane said, adding that the Aztecs will now have a break until they play in the VisitMesa.com Tournament after Christmas, allowing MacDougall to heal. “The strange thing was that he almost didn’t play in the first place after he rolled an ankle on Thursday.’’
Saturday night’s game was played at a fast pace.
Shadow Mountain (7-1) got some big efforts and long-range shooting in an attempt to stay within range.
Bibby’s son, Michael, a sophomore point guard who had been battling the flu in the hours leading up to the game, scored a game-high 24 points, including five 3-pointers. Sophomore forward Carlos Johnson scored 23, including three 3-pointers.
Corona led by 17, 68-51, early in the fourth quarter, but Shadow Mountain got as close as five points, 72-67, on a 3-pointer by J.J. Rhymes with 1:59 left. It was 76-71 with a little more than a minute to go on a 3-pointer by Johnson.
With time starting to run out, Shadow Mountain was forced to foul. Benson hit four free throws and Givens had a key three-point play to help the Aztecs stay afloat.
“This absolutely was a big game for us,’’ said Duane, who with his team was presented the title trophy by Colangelo. “We want to try and get as many games like this is we can against the good teams like Shadow Mountain. It only helps us get better.’’