You might excuse Chandler for maybe not being completely focused on its round of 16 opponent in the girls Division I basketball state tournament.
Chandler was in control most of the night but needed more than three quarters to put away visiting Chaparral 70-48 on Friday.
The eighth-seeded Wolves (18-9) were facing a No. 24 seed and advance to face the No. 1 team in Arizona on Monday night in the quarterfinals.
“They are just another team,” Chandler guard Jesse Ossian said of the Wolves’ next opponent, St. Mary’s. “We don’t take their name or anything as anything higher than what they are. We’re coming to play our game and they’re coming to play theirs and it’s going to be a good game.”
The Wolves, indeed, do face the two-time defending state champs on Monday night in the final quarterfinal game at 7:45 p.m. at Arizona State. St. Mary’s, who beat Chandler twice this regular season by an average of 24.5 points, routed its second round opponent, Desert Vista, 80-34 on Friday night.
First, Chandler had to get past a scrappy Chaparral team that traveled all the way to Sierra Vista and upset No. 9 Buena in the first round on Wednesday.
The Firebirds even had a good game plan against the Wolves’ big center in Jazmyne Bartee and their group of sharp shooters, led by Ossian’s 24 points.
“We've got St. Mary’s so we didn’t want to burn ourselves out,” Chandler coach Zon Thompson said. “We played our game. We wanted to make sure we controlled the tempo, we controlled the momentum. We got our shooting going, I guess on Monday we will be ready to go.”
The Wolves’ constant pressure wore down the younger, smaller Firebirds, but Chaparral stayed close until Chandler began sinking free throws – eight straight in the final 5:11 of the game – and converted its own possessions after Chaparral pulled within 14 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
“They hurt themselves a little bit too much,” Chaparral coach Brian Porth said. “It’s disappointing because the reality is we are a good team against the press. When you have a point guard as good as Alex Gilligan, who is one of the best in the state in terms of her ability to control the game, it’s disappointing we didn’t handle the press better across the board.”
The Firebirds did have the right plan at the outset – a 2-3 zone to force Chandler to shoot from outside and collapse on the 6-foot-1 Bartee to deny her the ball.
Chaparral found some success but then had trouble with the basics. The Chandler pressure kept Chaparral from simple in-bounds plays and they turned the ball over even bringing the ball up against the press.
“That’s how we do it at Chandler,” Ossian said. “Full court, aggressive, we like to push the ball, it’s our style of play.”
Chaparral had seven turnovers in the first five minutes, trailed 16-2 at that point and amassed 16 miscues by the break and were down 40-24 at halftime.
The Firebirds (14-17) struggled throughout the third while Ossian found both Bartee and the open outside shot as Chandler opened up a 51-32 lead after three.
“Inside out and get it right back in, that’s what we try to do and luckily we were hitting our shots from outside, which is really good,” Ossian said.
When Chaparral did get the ball up court, Gilligan (15 points) and Emily Reiser (11 points) found success, but not enough to keep up with Wolves, who have won eight of their last 10 games.
“This is the third time us playing St. Mary’s and I think we’re ready,” Thompson said. “We have played them over the years. Last year we held them to six, this year we’re alright. We are going to play our game, St. Mary’s is going to play their game and it’s going to be six (NCAA) Division I players versus marginal players. We should not be in the position we are in right now.”
Chandler 70, Chaparral 48
Chaparral 6 18 8 16 -- 48
Chandler 17 23 11 19 -- 70
Chaparral: Gilligan 15, Beiser 11, Benros 8, Bright 5, Shaw 5, Buzas 2, Stapleton 2.
Chandler: J. Ossian 24, Bartee 14, Martinez 14, Lopez 9, S. Ossian 4, Huston 3, Madetzke 2.