The highest seed left is a No. 4. Two seeds on the long side of 16 are still alive.
What promised to be a wide open 5A Division I boys tournament has turned out to be just that.
Thursday night, two programs with lots of final four experience and two with none are the combatants as they battle for 5A-I supremacy at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
One semifinal newcomer, No. 6 seed Chandler Hamilton, takes on No. 10 Phoenix St. Mary’s at 7 p.m.
The other school new to the semis is No. 9 seed Chandler Basha, which takes on Central Region rival and No. 4 seed Phoenix Desert Vista on Thursday at 8:45 p.m. The winners meet Friday night at 8 for the title.
“We think out experience will help us,” Desert Vista coach Doug Harris said. “Especially our seniors who have been here before. But you still have to play the game. There aren’t any secrets between us (Basha-DV).”
Desert Vista has reached the semifinals each of the last three years and six of the last seven. The Thunder have made two title-game appearances, but came up short in 2003 (falling to Gilbert) and 2004 (losing to Mesa).
Desert Vista and Basha have met three times — all in the last month. Desert Vista won two of the three. The Thunder are led offensively by center Michael Proctor and guards Josh Lowery and Marcus Lever. All three average in double figures. Defense keyed the victories over Phoenix Desert Mountain and Tucson Salpointe in the first two rounds. Basha has been led by Nick Markovich and Tyler Miller. Miller has a pair of double-double against Mesa and Chandler.
Hamilton fell a basket shy of reaching the semifinals last season, bowing out in the quarterfinals to Phoenix Trevor Browne, 65-64. The Huskies are led by the same duo of Ryan Evans and John Jackson. Both were clicking offensively in knocking out Laveen Cesar Chavez last Saturday. Evans is averaging 18 points a game; Jackson 16. Evans was the Fiesta Region co-player of the year.
Hamilton has been bolstered of late by the play of Alante Wright and Chubby Henderson, who in a recent stretch, are averaging close to double figures themselves.
“That’s taken the pressure off the others,” Hamilton coach Kevin Hartwig said. “We’ve shot very well lately and we’ve rebounded well. We’ve also had good matchups.”
Hamilton and St. Mary’s haven’t met since the first round of state in 2006. The teams split two meetings that season with the Knights winning in the state tournament.
St. Mary’s is led by Desert Valley Region player of the year, 6-foot-7 junior forward Byron Fulton. The Knights are the hottest team left among the semifinalists, having won their last seven games. They won their final three regular-season games to win the Desert Valley Region, two more to capture the region tournament, then knocked off Tucson on the road and three-time champ Mesa Mountain View in the first two rounds of state.
Junior forward Blake Davis is averaging 17 points a game in postseason play, senior guard James Hollins is averaging 14 and Fulton 13.
BOYS 5A-I STATE BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS CAPSULES
No. 9 Chandler Basha vs. No. 4 Phoenix Desert Vista (24-5)
8:45 p.m. Thursday at Jobing.com Arena
Outlook: Basha coach Brad Pinter, the program’s third coach in as many seasons, has this year’s edition playing well at the end. Juniors Nick Markovich and Tyler Miller have keyed the Bear’s current four-game winning streak. Markovich is averaging 24 points a game so far at state; Miller is averaging 15. Basha managed to take one game of the three played between it and Desert Vista this season, winning the region tourney title game by a point. Desert Vista is usually balanced with Michael Proctor, Josh Lowery and Marcus Lever supplying the firepower.
No. 6 Hamilton (21-10) vs. No. 10 St. Mary’s (20-10)
7 p.m. Thursday at Jobing.com Arena
Outlook: No seed lower than a No. 2 has won the 5A or 5A-I title since power rankings were put into use in 2004. The No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds were eliminated in the first round so the wide open nature predicted at the outset of the tournament has proven correct. This is the furthest Hamilton has advanced at state since it began competing for a state title in the 1999-2000 season. St. Mary’s is in the semis for the third time in the last four years. The bulk of the Knights’ top players and reserves (six of nine) are juniors or sophomores. They took the better part of the season to get on a roll and hope to keep Hamilton from the title game.