Top-seeded Gilbert came into the 6A Conference girls state basketball semifinals undefeated against Arizona competition.
The 18-0 record in power ranking games was impressive, but there were some holes in ledger, considering the Tigers never faced the other preseason favorites – Hamilton, Valley Vista and Millennium – in compiling the sterling record.
Chances were that was going change by the end of the state tournament, and that came to fruition on Thursday at Gila River Arena with No. 4 Millennium ready for the jump ball and a shot at the state title.
The Millennium combo of Ali Zelaya and Dominique Phillips was too much for Gilbert in a 52-47 loss.
“Millennium is really good, and they have some size we had trouble matching up with,” Gilbert coach Kyle Pedersen said. “We weren’t able to get in the flow offensively like we usually do, and they gave us trouble all game.”
Gilbert pulled within 33-32 on Stacy Hock’s three-pointer with 7:09 to go in the game, but Zelaya pushed it back out to five on successive baskets.
While Gilbert (26-3) struggled with foul trouble and getting to the basket, Millennium (24-7) made seven of 10 from the free-throw line down the stretch to put the game away.
“You don’t get to 18-0 without being a really good team,” Millennium coach Courtland Rojeck said. “But we felt that hadn’t played a team with our size yet.”
It proved to be a problem as Zelaya, a forward, finished 9 of 16 from the field for 22 points with 12 rebounds, while Phillips, a guard, had a game-high 24 including 9 of 12 from the line.
Millennium pestered Gilbert twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder and forced them to play defense. They ended up fouling out along with older sister Brandi.
“We saw that they scored more than 60 percent of their offense,” Rojeck said. “I kept thinking when we were watching film, I don’t care what else happens but we were not going to let those two run free.”
Haley finished with 17 and Hanna had 13, but it was hard earned.
“We ask a lot of them,” Pedersen said of the sophomore guards. “They’ve had great seasons, and they did everything they could.”
Gilbert had a great season and return three of the five starters and several quality players from off the bench.
“I am blessed to coach these girls and we will start working toward next year,” Pedersen said as he walked toward the locker room, “but right now I am thinking about these seniors and what they meant to this program.”
– Contact writer Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.