They will have to wait a little longer in Tempe.
The Buffaloes’ quest for their first ever boys basketball title ended Saturday afternoon at Jobing.com Arena. Tempe hadn't played this far into a season since it fell in the 1990 championship game.
It is where Tucson Amphitheater dominated Tempe early in gaining its first basketball championship with a 87-77 victory over the Buffaloes in the 4A Division II title game.
The Panthers' pressure defense forced 13 first-half turnovers and the result was easy transition baskets for Amphitheater which built up a 43-24 halftime lead and then cruised to the win.
The speed of the Panthers (28-2) hurt the Buffaloes (22-10), particularly defensively as Amphi often double-teamed Tempe star Jordan Baker as soon as he got to half court.
“We tried to duplicate their speed by going 6-of-5 yesterday in practice, but that was hard to do,” Tempe coach Bryan Snyder said. “I don’t think we’ve seen a team that is as quick as they are all year. They are tough to play.”
Forward Tim Derksen got a lot of those layups on his way to scoring 26 points before fouling out. The left-handed junior always seemed to be in the right place and the right time. Running the floor in transition he found himself open under the basket. In the half court set he got bunches of offensive rebounds and the basketball often found its way back into the basket.
The Panthers also got a big lift from guard Tony Lillard. The junior came off the bench to score 19 points, 16 of which came in the first half when he made four of his five 3-pointers.
“He’s just a streaky guy,” Derksen said.
The champions even survived a rather pedestrian game from senior captain Lester Medford. He had just three points and was 1-of-6 from the free throw line.
“There isn’t any team in the state that can go as deep as we can,” Derksen said.
Snyder didn’t disagree.
For Amphitheater, the championship is a long time coming. The Panthers played in and lost last year’s championship. Before that, their last appearance in a title game was in 1949.
A championship would have required a significant upset on the part of Tempe, but Baker and his crew could got into some foul trouble didn’t have the depth of the Amphitheater team.
“The foul trouble really hurt us,” Snyder said.
Baker came into the game averaging 27 points and he did not disappoint as he scored 36 as he tried repeatedly to rally the Buffaloes in the second half. He got help from B.J. Atkins, who had 12 and Isaiah Haynes added 10.
It was during the second quarter when the Panthers pulled away from the Buffaloes. Leading 20-17 after one quarter, Amphitheater scored the first six points of the second quarter.
Then, with five minutes left in the half and Tempe trailing 27-21, Baker picked up his third foul. He came out of the game briefly, but that was enough to allow the Panthers to go on an 11-0 scoring run to get a 38-21 advantage.
The Panthers’ lead got as big as 25 points in the second half.