In a back-and-forth battle, top-seeded Corona del Sol defeated No. 8 Westview 74-59 Saturday at home in the quarterfinals of the 6A Conference boys basketball state tournament.
The win was symbolic for the Aztecs, who lost in last year’s tournament in the quarterfinals to Sunnyslope, after winning the last four state championships consecutively.
Senior guard Alex Barcello, who has committed to play at the University of Arizona next year, hit a three-pointer on the opening possession of the game, and the Aztecs never lost the lead throughout.
Barcello scored the first eight points of the game for his team, knowing he needed to be the catalyst against a defense that made it difficult for Corona del Sol’s big men to get any penetration.
“I just wanted to start out bringing it,” he said. “We just needed to come in hot.”
The game was much closer at times than the 15-point difference suggests.
The Aztecs struggled to guard the paint, giving up a lot of free throws that Westview didn’t capitalize on early, but started hitting in the third quarter.
Corona coach Neil MacDonald was frustrated early with the defense, but was proud of the way his team moved its feet late and fought hard all the way through the game.
“We got in foul trouble and we hung in there. We had to play guys out of position again and we just kind of had to grind it out,” MacDonald said, “We switched defenses a few times which we don’t normally like to do, but we didn’t have a whole lot of choice tonight.”
The score got as close as 48-44 in the third quarter, and that is exactly when the senior leadership of the Aztecs stepped in.
With the Westview crowd matching Corona del Sol’s supporters scream-for-scream, and both crowds standing on their feet to will their teams to victory, Barcello calmly stepped up and hit a three-pointer with a hand in his face to deflate the away crowd substantially.
“I knew that our team is a finishing team, so I knew that we could pull it out, and we just had to slow the game down,” Barcello said.
After that point, senior guard Saben Lee took over.
The Vanderbilt recruit, two possessions later, took the ball at the right baseline, spun left, took a step, jumped up, cocked the ball back, took a foul, and was inches away from throwing down a slam that surely would have sent the crowd into a frenzy equaling a small number on the Richter Scale.
After calmly swishing the two free-throws, Lee poured in another 15 points through the rest of the second half, seemingly getting to the hoop and drawing contact at will.
“I knew that offensively I had to step it up, so that was my main focus,” he said, “This is the playoffs, you can’t lose in the playoffs, it’s one and done.”
The win means a berth in the semifinals against Cesar Chavez High School, whom Corona del Sol beat by just one point earlier in the season, on Thursday at Gila River Arena.
In the last game at Corona del Sol for the eight seniors on the roster, getting a playoff win was incredibly important, but for now they are focused on a title.
“That was our message earlier, it’s your last game on this court, make sure it’s not your last game,” MacDonald said. “There will be time to reflect on leaving Corona del Sol, but right now they’re excited to be playing on Thursday.”
– Newman is a sports journalism major at Arizona State.