Could the third tangle with Corona continue Perry's charm? - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Could the third tangle with Corona continue Perry's charm?

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Posted: Thursday, February 27, 2014 10:24 pm | Updated: 12:40 pm, Fri Feb 28, 2014.

At this point in the season - the end of the postseason - it's both inevitable and undesirable the bigger-sized schools will meet each other for at least a second and often a third time.

It'll happen in both Division I boys semifinals on Friday.

Dobson and Pinnacle will meet for a third time this season (4:15 p.m.), with the Mustangs having won the previous two matchups (both since the end of January) by a combined nine points.

That's going to make for fantastic theater at Wells Fargo Arena. It will also be a possible appetizer.

That's because the nightcap (7:45 p.m.) will feature No. 1 Corona del Sol and No. 4 Perry for a third time (all in the month of February).

Everyone wants to know if Corona can be beaten by a team other than the annual national high school All-Star team known as Findlay Prep, which beat the Aztecs in early January.

Perry, however, is the proverbial "upstart" program in this Final Four, having never been here before and whose Pumas revolve in large-part around a sensational freshman in Markus Howard and older brother, Jordan. The Pumas also hold the distinction of playing Corona del Sol closer than any other Arizona team this season as the Aztecs continue to pummel the opposition toward a third consecutive state title.

After an 84-72 win over Perry in early February, the Pumas were unstoppable from the perimeter during the Super Sectional championship game. It was 49-38 at halftime in favor of the Pumas. In contrast, other top teams this season including Gilbert, Hamilton, Highland, and Red Mountain scored fewer than 49 in an entire game against Corona.

That 11-point lead hovered around 20 points for the better part of the first half before the Aztecs woke up. And they did after halftime, whittling away the deficit with defense and pulling out a wild 73-72 win on Feb. 15, which means the Aztecs held Perry to 23 points in the second half.

Lesson learned after losing 84-72 in the first meeting to Corona? Perhaps.  Will Perry see a different Corona club on Friday? Probably. Will Corona see a more mature Perry bunch?  Also, probably.

If Perry begins the way it did against Phoenix Sunnyslope in Thursday's quarterfinals, or the way Mountain View did against Corona in the first quarter late Thursday night, the Pumas will face real problems quickly. If Perry plays the way it did the final three quarters against Sunnyslope, or shoots lights-out as it did early against Corona last time, it could get interesting.

Corona looked untouchable for most of its quarterfinals win over the Toros on Thursday; its size, depth, athleticism, transition game off Toro misses and defense all emerging factors even before we get to the offense.

The Howard brothers - especially Markus - will have to shoot similar to the scorching showcase they put on in the previous matchup (combined 20 of 34 from the floor, including 9 of 17 from behind the arc), and Markus can (and will) shoot from anywhere.

The Pumas have a surrounding cast not to be slept on with Luke Siwek, Geoff Vredevoogd and Jake Mortensen  to go with a defender in sophomore Bryce Fisher, who'll have to deal with Corona's Casey Benson and possibly Alex Barcello.  Those guys are going to have to come up real big both defending and rebounding against Corona's wave of size with Connor MacDougall, Russ Davis (who was huge against Mountain View on Thursday night) Cassius Peat, Dane Kuiper and the skinny-but-quick Jerrett Givens.

The Howard brothers are going to have be huge offensively, as they have all season. Perry can't turn the ball over - Corona ran wild on Mountain View's many mistakes in the quarterfinals - and the complimentary will need to put up a few points, rebound and stay out of foul trouble.

Those are sticky issues, because for all of Corona's name recognition and Division I college-caliber players on the roster, the beauty of this (and the previous two) Aztec teams are a willingness to play defense, win ugly and share the ball. Those are three ingredients for dominance. And a dynasty.

As we saw against Sunnyslope, in the first half against Corona in the Super Sectional, Perry can bury itself and beat anyone in the state in the same two-hour period. Following an "acclimation" period of playing at Wells Fargo Arena against Sunnyslope, Perry showed its mettle and maturity.

It'll have to do a lot more of the same, play the game of its collective, short history, and hope Corona goes cold shooting to derail this developing dynasty.

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