The last time Sahuaro played an organized game was 332 days previously when the Cougars lost in the 4A state title game in Phoenix to Chandler Seton Catholic.
COVID-19 forced Sahuaro coach Steve Botkin and his team to cancel its annual summer-team competitions and pushed back the regular season two months from its normal starting date.
The Cougars beat host Pueblo 74-50 on Tuesday night in the long-awaited opener for both teams.
“I told the girls the last time I held the clipboard was when we were playing for a championship, which is hard to believe,” Botkin said.
TUSD is enforcing strict COVID-19 guidelines to prevent positive cases. No parents for either schools are allowed in the gym, a break from the AIA rules which allows the home school to admit two parents or guardians for each of their players. Some parents waited outside the gym in their cars to drive their kids home.
Players, coaches, referees and media members are required to wear facemasks at all times.
“It was a little weird because we didn’t get a summer and we’ve never really played together except for a little bit of practice. It was kind of rough,” said Sahuaro’s star senior forward Alyssa Brown, who finished with 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field with nine rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“We also had to play with masks, so it was kind of weird for some people. But the energy was there, especially in the first half. I think we were so excited to play.”
Sahuaro scored the game’s first 14 points and was not threatened thereafter by a young Pueblo team that was led by sophomore guard Victoria Cazares, who finished with 19 points.
The Warriors did not have an answer for the inside-outside combination of Brown and senior Alyssa “Lucky” Franke, who had 25 points behind a 5-of-7 shooting performance from 3-point range.
“If I didn’t know we weren’t sisters, I’d say we were sisters,” Brown said. “We have a psychic connection. She was a big help from the outside hitting those 3’s.”
.@_SHSgirlhoops guard Lucky Franke, draining the 3, and forward @alyssajb_23 one of the best outside-inside combos in the state. Cougars lead Pueblo 73-43 with 1:50 left 4Q. #ASThssports pic.twitter.com/n08hBanvcl
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) January 27, 2021
The contributions of Brown, Franke and fellow senior Lily Watson (seven rebounds and five steals) were pleasing to Botkin’s eyes, but the overall sloppiness of the game on both sides made the game occasionally difficult to watch.
Sahuaro tallied 15 turnovers and was called for 25 fouls.
“I told the girls at the end of the game we’re happy to be back, but I’m not happy with the way we played overall,” said Botkin, who is 551-180 in his 26th season as a head coach.
“We played really flat-footed tonight, I thought. We allowed them to penetrate and they drew fouls on us and got a lot of free throws (Pueblo was 18 of 35 from the free throw line with Cazares going to the line 14 times in the second half).”
Botkin added that because of COVID-19 restrictions limiting contact in workouts, he could not practice his team’s defense and rebounding in detail until last week.
Brown was versatile, extending to the perimeter, making two 3-pointers, while also dominating inside because of her superior size and strength.
Her 33 points improves her standing to No. 23 in state history in career scoring with 2,127 points. She is closing in on No. 20, which is held by former Palo Verde and Pima standout Sydni Stallworth (2,182 points from 2011 to 2015 with the Titans).
“Alyssa and Lucky are so much fun to watch play together,” Botkin said. “It seems they read each other’s minds. In practice, you can see it. They know where each other are all of the time. They depend on each other a lot, which is nice, and I depend on them a lot.”
Sahuaro is next scheduled to play at Cholla on Thursday at 5 p.m. Pueblo is slated to play at Desert View on Thursday at 4:30.
Arizona Girls Basketball Career Scoring Leaders
|Yuma Catholic/Gila Bend
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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.