Sahuaro junior forward Alyssa Brown made two free throws with 18 seconds left to secure the Cougars’ 64-59 win over host Shadow Mountain in a 4A state semifinal game at Phoenix tonight, advancing coach Steve Botkin to the title game for the first time in his accomplished career.
“It’s such a great feeling, the feeling to see these girls jumping up and down and screaming and hollering,” Botkin said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The Cougars, led by Brown’s 29 points, 14 rebounds and three steals, avenged their loss to the Matadors (25-4) in the semifinals last year at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. Shadow Mountain, the No. 2 seed this year, went on to win the 4A state championship last season.
The No. 3 Cougars (28-1) will play top-seed Seton Catholic (25-3) in the 4A championship game Saturday early in the morning at 10 at the Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at Phoenix.
“Seton Catholic is very well coached; I have a lot of respect for what (coach) Karen Self has done there,” said Botkin, referring to the legendary coach who has led Seton Catholic to 10 state titles and five runner-up finishes since her career started there in 1992.
Botkin, who started coaching at Sahuaro in 2005-06 and has 549 career wins, will lead the Cougars to their first title game appearance since 2000-01. The school won state titles in 1992-93 and 1997-98 under Jim Scott. Botkin was on Scott’s staff in 1992-93 and has not experienced the state championship game since.
“We’ll go up Friday night and spend the night close to the arena,” Botkin said of the 10 a.m. tipoff. “We’ll try to not party. We’re going up there to spend the night and be closer instead of having to wake up at 5 a.m. and drive two hours there. We’ll get up early Saturday there and hit the floor. I hope they get out and play well and give it their best shot. It’s going to be fun.”
Brown’s free throws with 18 seconds left gave Sahuaro the five-point cushion it needed to beat Shadow Mountain. The Matadors’ top player, Senya Rabouin, fouled out in the play.
Brown made two free throws with 49 seconds left to increase the lead to 60-57. Malaysia Gibson answered with a baseline shot on the other end.
Lucky Franke, another junior standout with the Cougars who made two 3-pointers to start the second half , made two free throws with 28 seconds left to give her team a 62-59 lead. Franke finished with 18 points.
After a missed attempt by Shadow Mountain, Brown was fouled setting up her game-clinching free throws with 18 seconds left.
Here is a video posted by Brown’s mom, Lisa Moore, on Facebook:
Brown’s 29 points tonight gives her 2,073 points in her career with still another season remaining. She has 911 points this season. She has the chance to become the first player from Southern Arizona — boys or girls — to reach 3,000 career points as a senior next season.
Brown, who has numerous scholarship offers from Division I programs, had 34 points and 11 rebounds against Shadow Mountain last year.
Sahuaro looked in trouble early tonight trailing 12-3 at the end of the first quarter and committing 15 turnovers by halftime. The Cougars trailed 28-22 at that point.
“At halftime, I told our players to just play your game,” Botkin said. “We were over-penetrating. We got ourselves together and ended up with only five turnovers in the second half.
“We made 18 of 22 shots from the foul line in the second half. Down the stretch, we made all of our free throws. This tells me that we can handle adversity. Not one player dropped their head when we had all those turnovers in the first half. If we did that, it would have been a long night. “
Sahuaro’s numerous offensive rebounds in the second half were also important. Brown, Messiah Amon-Ra (seven rebounds) and Lily Watson (eight rebounds) crashed the boards while Franke and Sahuaro’s guards dropped down court to thwart Shadow Mountain’s usually effective transition game.
“We got a couple of defensive rebounds to stop them and build our momentum,” Botkin said. “The way we came up with the rebounds was huge because Shadow Mountain is built on rebounding and their transition game. We started to get more of the 50-50 balls we weren’t getting in the first half and that was a big difference.”
Sahuaro’s climb to the state title game started last summer with games at tournaments held in Phoenix and San Diego. The team bonded and became more like a family after that experience, Botkin said.
“I was telling my daughter (Alyssa, an assistant on the team) that playing tough teams during the summer really helped us get to this point,” Botkin said. “Now that we’re in this game, no matter what, we’ll give 32 minutes of everything we have to win.”
FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER!
ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.