Shorthanded Sahuaro gathers enough energy late to outlast Salpointe

Alyssa Brown was hunched over a bit and looking exhausted when she took the ball from the ref to inbound the ball in the third quarter of a tough game against unbeaten Salpointe.

Her undefeated No. 4-ranked Sahuaro team, which made it to the 4A state championship game last year, was down by 10 points to a senior-laden Salpointe team that was ranked No. 2 in the state with a 10-0 record before the Cougars came on strong in the fourth quarter to win 65-55.

Not in uniform sitting in the bench area was point guard Lucky Franke, Brown’s “Robin” as part of Sahuaro’s Dynamic Duo. Franke arrived just in time for a Senior Night ceremony from visiting the orthopedic doctor. She had a splint on her fractured right pinky, suffered when she tumbled hard to the court against Sunnyside the previous night.

“Playing point guard, and doing everything I usually do was definitely a big change,” said Brown, a 6-foot-1 talent who really can play all five positions.

Adding to the fatigue, mentally as well as physically, was playing the sixth game in a week in a schedule that resembles an NBA team with little or no practice in between games because of schools trying to get as many games in due to the possibility of COVID-19 causing postponements or cancellations.

Sahuaro’s Alyssa Brown inbounds the ball against Salpointe’s Jaya Nelson (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

“Missing our point guard, I was definitely super tired,” Brown said. “As a team, we agreed that we want this win on Senior Night. It’s a big occasion. It’s home court. We really wanted it.

“I feel like we all just kind of bounced off each other energy-wise, and we just decided, like, we’re gonna pull this one out.”

Brown, who has signed a national letter of intent to play at UNLV, and the Cougars outscored Salpointe 25-8 in the fourth quarter to overcome the Lancers in a win that makes Steve Botkin’s team state-playoff eligible with 10 games played.

Sahuaro is 10-0 with another big game Wednesday against visiting San Tan Valley Poston Butte (9-4). Salpointe also plays another tough opponent on Wednesday night, Rincon/University (7-2), at home.

The Cougars end the regular season next week with five more games taking place Monday through Friday. Franke will miss those games. Another starter, sophomore guard Nashelle Ponds, is out but should return next week from COVID-19 contact-tracing protocol.

Sahuaro’s Lilly Watson who is normally a power forward brought the ball upcourt during the fourth quarter for the Cougars (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Botkin is not concerned about being shorthanded with such a heavy slate.

“We have kids that are battlers,” he said.

Botkin can’t single out Brown with that comment. She no doubt was the driving force behind the win over Salpointe with 39 points. The production came while often matched against one of Southern Arizona’s best defenders Jaya Nelson, a longtime friend and former AAU teammate.

Brown was not the only player who carried Sahuaro to victory.

The Cougars would not have won if it weren’t for senior Lilly Watson, a forward who turned into a point guard herself, bringing the ball up against pressure and releasing up the court for uncontested shots when Salpointe missed during the fourth quarter.

Lilly Watson handled the ball the majority of the fourth quarter (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

A.J. Bonapart also played quality minutes grabbing loose balls and often feeding Watkins and Brown in transition.

The play of those around Brown made up for the loss of Franke and also eased the heavy load on Brown’s shoulders.

“I told them before the game, ‘Every single one of us is going to have to step up on (Franke’s) behalf. Just play a little bit better and a little bit harder, because we’ve got to make up some stuff there,'” Botkin said.

Watson had eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter. She provided a much-needed boost against Salpointe’s array of fleet-footed perimeter players by being active on the boards, running the floor for outlet passes and penetrating off the dribble.

“Lilly is a great rebounder, kind of like the Dennis Rodman type who does not shoot a whole lot, but loves to rebound and play physical basketball,” Botkin said. “I called her earlier today and I said, ‘Hey, if we don’t have Lucky, I want you to score. You need to pick up some slack.’ She did that.”

The Lancers’ normally very capable good-shooting guards Bria Medina, Madeline Namanny, Tessa Hastings and Kylee Callahan had difficulty scoring after Salpointe took a 47-40 lead into the fourth quarter.

Hastings had a team-high 14 points but did not score in the second half. Medina made two 3-pointers in the first quarter but couldn’t connect thereafter. Namanny and Callahan helped Salpointe build the 10-point lead in the third quarter combining for 13 points, but they had only two points in the fourth quarter on a Callahan layup.

Nelson, who last week signed to play at Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia,  finished with 11 points.

Botkin credits his daughter Alyssa, one of his assistant coaches, for Sahuaro’s improved defensive presence on the perimeter in the fourth quarter.

“My daughter’s really so basketball smart, she made the big adjustment in the fourth quarter of having Alyssa defend on the perimeter,” Botkin said. “Putting her out on the perimeter on a couple of their shooters was a difference because their shooters had to adjust because of Alyssa’s height.

“They had to adjust big time and I thought our wing down at the low block, Amyra (Perry-Fultz), got out on shooters quick. She’s super fast. She got out on shooters. There was just a lot of hustle and a lot of energy from all of our players.”

Brown’s 39 points increases her scoring average to 32.9 points a game, which makes her close to one of the top five scorers in the nation according to MaxPreps. The site lists a player at No. 5 at 32.1 a game with the qualifying amount of games being 11, one more than what Sahuaro has played.

Earlier in the day, she discovered that she was not selected to the McDonald’s All-American Game (which is a virtual celebration this year without a game because of COVID-19 protocol), but she is still in line for many other honors, including becoming a two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year.

She is now No. 8 in Arizona history with 2,423 career points, 77 points away from becoming only the sixth player to reach 2,500.

Brown has passed Green Fields great Olivia Snyder (2,382 points from 2009-13) to become the No. 3 scorer in Southern Arizona history. She is 56 points from reaching No. 2 Alexis Cortez, who had 2,479 points at Tucson High from 2012-16.

Arizona Girls Basketball Career Scoring Leaders

1Julie BraseCatalina Foothills1994-19982,913
2Alyssa BrownSahuaro2017-20212,680
3Kayla PedersenRed Mountain2003-20072,611
4Christina WirthSeton Catholic2001-20052,550
5Kayla MackenzieKellis2006-20102,515
6Ashley WirtzbergerYuma Catholic/Gila Bend2006-20102,505
7Alexis CortezTucson2012-20162,479
8Nicole PowellMountain Pointe1996-20002,478
9Shaylee GonzalesMesquite2014-20182,385
10Olivia SnyderGreen Fields2009-20132,382

Southern Arizona Girls Basketball Scoring Leaders

1Julie BraseCatalina Foothills1994-19982,913
2Alyssa BrownSahuaro2017-Present2,592
3Alexis CortezTucson2012-20162,479
4Olivia SnyderGreen Fields2009-20132,382
5Sydni StallworthPalo Verde2011-20152,182
6Shawn CoderWillcox1986-19902,162
7Paula PyersSanta Rita1980-19842,082
8Taneisha GossettFlowing Wells1990-19942,043

Julie Brase, Lute Olson’s granddaughter, holds the state and Southern Arizona record of 2,913 points from 1994-98. The delay of this season because of COVID-19, limiting the regular season to only 16 games, will prevent Brown from topping Brase.

None of that mattered on Senior Night on Tuesday with her parents Lisa Moore and Alawnzo Brown in attendance. Moore and the elder Brown were two standout athletes in Tucson when they were in high school, Moore in basketball at Tucson High and Brown in football and basketball at CDO.

A revitalized Brown, who was dragging when Sahuaro was down by 10 in the third quarter, was all smiles after the victory, carrying her balloons from Senior Night.

“This win was huge,” Brown said. “I think that we kind of trust each other more. Everybody was out of their comfort zone. We had people playing point who don’t bring the ball up and people playing in the post as much as they usually do.

“We’re shorthanded right now with a couple girls out. We all know that we can play to our highest potential. We just have to battle.”


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.

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