The visiting Surprise Willow Canyon Wildcats brought everything they could to trip up the top-seeded Scottsdale Saguaro boys basketball team — the No. 1 offense in 4A, busloads of students to cheer them on, and even their band.
But they left their defense in Surprise, and Nick Witherill made them pay.
The junior guard scored 22 of his 33 points in the second half, and the Sabercats outscored eighth-seeded Willow Canyon 53-36 in the final two quarters, routing the Wildcats 91-66 Friday night to advance to the 4A-I semifinals Wednesday at Jobing.com Arena.
“We just busted out on them. They had no answer,” said Witherill, who hit five 3-pointers in Saguaro’s highest scoring game of the season.
Fast-paced Willow Canyon (25-5) came in averaging more than 82 points per game, but ran into a brick wall in the Desert Sky Region champion Sabercats (24-5), who give up just 59 points a contest.
“We think we can run with anybody, but our goal is to play some defense,” Saguaro coach Bob LaRue said. “Most teams don’t let us run, but we still wanted to play at our pace, and in the second half, we were able to do that.”
The Sabercats led by 14 in the second quarter, but a 9-0 Willow Canyon run put the West Valley Region champions back in it, inciting students from both schools to trade chants.
After Willow Canyon opened the second half with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 38-33, Witherill took over.
The lefty hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put Saguaro ahead by 11, and scored four of Saguaro’s eight unanswered points to end the third quarter, giving the Sabercats a 57-40 lead heading into the fourth and prompting a crowd chant of “Why so quiet?” directed toward the silenced Willow Canyon crowd.
“He tried to do too much in the first half,” LaRue said of Witherill. “In the second half, he let it come to him.”
“We just got the ball moving around,” Witherill said. “I tried to get my teammates involved a little more, and that helped my game.”
The Sabercats have won 12 of their past 13 and ended the Wildcats’ six-game winning streak.
Saguaro finished its home season 11-1.