If you want to beat the Seton Catholic boys basketball team, you better have a big lead at halftime because the Sentinels usually turn on their defensive jets in the second half.
That is exactly what happened Friday in the 3A state tournament semifinals at America West Arena. The Sentinels had a modest lead over Winslow at intermission and quickly turned the game into a rout in the third quarter en route to a 72-57 victory. Seton Catholic will go after its first state title at 3:07 p.m. today when it faces Rio Rico, a 44-40 winner over Greyhills in Friday’s other semifinal.
"Defense got us here this year," said Seton Catholic coach Hosea Graham, whose team improved to 28-4. "We’ve been working on it for the last two months. Defense is the only way to win a championship at this level. There are so many good offensive teams, that the way to counter that is to play great perimeter defense.
"We run three miles every day before practice, without fail. Even yesterday, they ran. They bought into the defense. They know that to play that kind of defense, we have to be in better condition than anybody. That’s where we’re winning, middle of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter. We’re still fresh and we can make a 10, 12-point run."
Leading 32-25 at intermission, the Sentinels opened the third quarter with a 17-5 run. While defense generated the run, Drew Arnold and Matt Refner also got hot hands offensively. Arnold scored 10 or his game-high 23 points in the quarter while Matt Refner scored 10 of his 20.
"We knew that we could extend the lead in the third quarter because we’re in shape," Refner said. "We just came out hard."
Seton Catholic led 54-37 heading into he fourth quarter, extended its lead to 20 points and then coasted, allowing Winslow (19-13) to score some late baskets.
"I don’t think any game is ever easy," said Refner, "but I expected it to be closer. We watched the game up in Flagstaff and they made a lot more of their shots."
Graham said his Sentinels are on a mission, one that was started two years ago when they lost to Globe in double overtime in the state semifinals.
"The biggest thing is I’ve got a senior-focused team," Graham said. "My seniors are focused, and they’ve had a dream since they were sophomores when we were here. The last thing they said after we lost to Globe in that double overtime was, ‘Coach, we’re going to get back here and we’re not just settling for just to get back here. We’re going for it.’ "
Seton vs. Rio Rico
What: 3A boys championship game
When: 3:07 p.m. today
Where: America West Arena
TV: Cox Ch. 9
Seton starters: Matt Refner, Drew Arnold, Matt Tibbetts, Jordan Wolf, Tracy Zea