TUCSON - Style points don't count toward power rankings. Good thing for Gilbert Christian's boys basketball team following a 56-45 win Saturday over Thatcher that could be described as ugly.
"We didn't play our best basketball, but we got the job done," Knights
coach Jeremy Joseph said following the Division II, Section III title game at Pueblo High School.
Second-seeded Gilbert Christian (23-4) probably played what Joseph would consider its "best basketball" a little more than a week earlier, when it ended the regular season with a 75-44 pounding of No. 1 Thatcher on the road.
Though not as impressive as that victory, the sectional championship was won in the same way: with a defensive mindset that limits inside
opportunities and forces jump shots.
Thatcher's many guards kept running into roadblocks when looking for
driving lanes, causing the Eagles (27-3) to settle for jumpers that
could run hot or cold.
"That what we try to do all the time; we want to take away drives,"
While Thatcher struggled to find an inside presence, Gilbert Christian
was effective inside and out early, thanks mostly to the effort
of sophomore Sam Jones. Jones had 19 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, and, after opening the third quarter with a three-pointer, had single-handedly tied Thatcher's offensive output.
"Sam told me before the game he was extra excited and wanted to lead us," Joseph said.
The Knights also got 13 points from Logan Fougnies and 10 from Connor Patterson, and managed to avoid any serious foul trouble despite basically playing its starters from the opening tip to the final
While Gilbert Christian looked to be the more athletic and skilled team,
several bouts of sloppy play enabled Thatcher to always stay within
striking distance. Gilbert Christian had first-half leads of 14-4 and
26-12, only to see a combination of missed shots, ticky tack fouls and
Thatcher getting hot to keep things close.
Things got even tighter late in the third quarter when, after going up
41-28 on a Patterson jumper from the foul line, Thatcher went on a 9-0
run in less than three minutes to get within 41-37 with 6:59 left in the
The Eagles were only down 50-45 when Mitchell Goodman (team-high 19 points) hit a three with 1:16 left, but then Gilbert Christian's
Fougnies iced the game by hitting six of seven foul shots in the final
Despite the win, and remaining unbeaten (21-0) in power point-eligible
games, Gilbert Christian isn't the top seed for next week's Division III state tournament. The Knights are the No. 2 seed and will begin play on Friday, Feb. 17 at the NAU Walkup Skydome against the winner of Valley Sanders and St. Johns.
No matter, says Joseph.
"At this point we're just worried about what we need to do, which is
play well," he said.