Take a break from defense? Not Tom Bennett and the Gilbert High School boys basketball team.
The Tigers never rest when it comes to trying to prevent the opposition from scoring. A case in point was 40 minutes before last Saturday’s 5A quarterfinal matchup with Phoenix Camelback at South Mountain High.
Gilbert and Camelback were getting in some pregame shooting before they took the floor for their official warm-up for what proved to be a tense, down-to-the-wire battle won by the Tigers, 57-55.
Gilbert players Tommy Hambicki, Mike Grothaus and a bit later, Micah VanHilsen, eventually found a seat next to Bennett on the team bench, eyeing Camelback players as they shot. They weren't admiring their touch, just trying to get more of an indication of where the Spartans liked to shoot and any habit(s) they could latch onto in those brief moments.
‘‘We were going over some of the things we thought they might like to do,’’ Bennett said. "These kids take it very seriously.’’
That they do. So much so that the Tigers have allowed their opponents to score only 45.3 points a game this season, the primary reason they have won 29 of 32 games. Today when the Tigers battle Phoenix Trevor Browne (29-4) in a 5A semifinal game at 8:30 p.m. at America West Arena, their defense gets yet another test against the high-pressure, high-octane antics of the Bruins.
Trevor Browne has scored 78, 78 and 103 points in its three state tournament games. The 103 came in double overtime, but after regulation in the Bruins’ quarterfinal win over Mesa it had tallied 73.
No Gilbert opponent has scored in the 70s this season. In fact, no Tigers foe has put up 60 points in a game. Something has to give tonight.
While the Tigers allow just more than 45 points a game, they must combat a player this evening in Daren Jordan, who exceeded that total in his last outing. Jordan had 47 points in the double-overtime win.
Trevor Browne, the Southwest Region champion, has won 13 straight games and 20 of its last 21. Led by Jordan and center Ty Morrison, the Bruins average 75 points a game. They have scored in the 40s just once, losing to Camelback.
Gilbert starters VanHilsen, Hambicki, Grothaus, Sean Cayton and Ryan Toolson all contribute to the Tigers’ menacing ways as do the reserves when their numbers are called.
Last week, for example, VanHilsen took on three very tough assignments — Dobson forward Jeff Hibbing, Marana Mountain View guard Jeff Mundell and Camelback’s all-around athlete and top scorer Thomas Huff.
The powerful Hibbing finished with 10 points — none in the first half — of a 53-35 Gilbert win. Hibbing averaged 23 points a game during the season. Mundell finished with nine points and had his 3-point game taken away by the Tigers in a 51-35 victory. Huff, who has a varied offensive game and has 15 to 20 pounds on VanHilsen, got quite the workout in collecting 13 points — seven points shy of his average.
As Bennett has said several times this season: ‘‘The one thing I can count on each game is having five guys working hard on defense. It’s the reason we win games.’’