Rolando Rhymes called it "taking the air out of the ball," and Mesa can attest to what Rhymes meant.
The Desert Mountain junior point guard's shooting and quick-hitting penetration helped take the air out of the Mesa offense, but the captain spoke of his team's methodical, grinding defense.
No. 5 Desert Mountain's 64-51 victory over No. 4 Mesa in the Division I boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday began on the other end of the court, and the Wolves' point guard turned those stops into scores early and often.
In doing so, Desert Mountain will play in its second state tournament semifinal in the past three years on Thursday at 7:45 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena.
"We stayed disciplined and that was huge," said Rhymes after his 22-point afternoon. "We stayed with what we do. (Mesa) wanted more of a track meet and we didn't want that."
Desert Mountain got what it wanted. The Wolves' defense held Mesa's transition game and took away any fast-break opportunities and turned the game into a 5-on-5 matchup on nearly every possession.
"We guarded them the way we like to guard ourselves (in practice)," Wolves coach Todd Fazio said.
Mesa missed its first seven shots of the game, guard D.J. Henderson (16 points per game) was held to three points and Christian Harris finished with seven.
Stung in-part by some foul trouble on Mesa's interior, Desert Mountain forward Mark Andrews took advantage with Rhymes' penetration and offensive rebounding en route to a game-high 24 points and 12 rebounds.
Mesa was held to six points in the first quarter and trailed 25-12 at halftime. The Jackrabbits made a run early in the third quarter behind Jalen Jenkins (13 points) and Dan Richards (14 points), but the Wolves countered those short runs with Rhymes and Andrews.
"They played a good game and beat us," Mesa coach Shane Burcar said. "We got outplayed, outcoached, they made shots and we didn't. It's tough to win with 12 points (at halftime) and we put ourselves in a hole right away.
"You get down by so much we couldn't get into a game we wanted to play."
Led by Andrews (8-for-8), the Wolves furthered their cause by hitting 20 of 24 free throws.
But Rhymes, who played his freshman year at St. Mary's before transferring to Desert Mountain and sitting out last year, controlled the game with his drives and passing when Mesa defenders would move over to help.
But he also hit a couple 3-pointesr and a couple other mid-range jump shots when given a cushion, a difference from a year ago or even earlier in the season.
"It took him a little while but he's figuring it out," Fazio said of his point guard. "He's a basketball player now."
Desert Mountain 64, Mesa 51
DM 6 19 16 22 -- 64
Mesa 4 8 17 23 -- 51
DM: Bullocks 2, Goff 4, Rhymes 22, Rees 2, Carter 5, Smith 3, Andrews 24, Smith 1
Mesa: Harris 7, Jenkins 13, Allen 8, Thomas 2, Henderson 3, Richards 14, Herrera 6
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.