Salpointe advances in Open Division by beating region foe Pueblo, which heads to 4A state tourney

Salpointe’s Taliyah Henderson is cheered on by her teammates in the pregame lineup announcements (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

A while after the gym was cleared and the lights were turned off on Tuesday night, Salpointe coach Joseph Luevano emerged from his office and headed toward the brightly-lit entrance where multiple state championship trophies are on display.

He looked at last year’s Class 4A state championship trophy, with the net still draped over it, and said, “It’s nice, but that’s last year’s. This is this year.”

This year, with the way Salpointe is playing, looks like it could include a march through the second round, quarterfinals, semifinals and championship of the prestigious Open Division, the first of its kind implemented by the AIA this season that includes the top 32 teams from the 4A to 6A conferences.

Salpointe (21-6) continued its impressive late-season dominance with a 66-46 win over 4A Kino region foe Pueblo in the first round of the Open Division. The Lancers are now 10-0 against teams from the region.

“I think this team is incredibly tough,” said Luevano, 64-12 in his third season as Salpointe’s head coach. “Losing eight kids from last year’s team and go undefeated against 4A Kino opponents currently, whatever might happen going forward, is incredibly special for them.

“They’re just very tough. They’ve bought in. They fight like their lives depend on every possession.”

Pueblo, under 11-year coach Izzy Galindo, is a worthy opponent rated as the 25th-best team in the state 4A-6A and the Warriors are 0-3 against Salpointe this year, swept in region play and then Tuesday’s setback.

Pueblo (20-7) will now compete in the 4A state tournament bracket that will be revealed on Saturday. The Warriors will be joined by 4A Kino teams Sahuaro (23-6) and Flowing Wells (19-8), both of which lost on the road Tuesday in Open Division first-round matchups.

“I’m actually excited about (playing in the 4A state tournament),” Galindo said. “I told our girls before the game (against Salpointe) that we have nothing to lose. If we lose, we’re still in our tournament. If we win, we beat the defending state champs on their court, so either way, it was a win-win for us.”

Sahuaro, the 30th seed, lost 47-31 against No. 3 Chandler Seton Catholic 47-31.

No. 32 Flowing Wells was defeated 91-43 by top-seeded Desert Vista, a 6A school.

No. 8 Salpointe advances in the Open Division Thursday, when it will host No. 8 Chandler Hamilton (21-7) at 7 p.m. A lot of familiarity exists between Salpointe and Hamilton. The teams played close in two games last summer and scrimmaged each other in the fall,

If the Lancers beat Hamilton, a 6A team, they will move on to the quarterfinals where they will potentially play Desert Vista on the road in what would be an epic matchup. If they lose Thursday, they join their fellow 4A Kino teams in the 4A state tournament.

If Salpointe goes on to the Open Division quarterfinals, it can’t play in the 4A tournament. A team that wins in the first two rounds of the Open Division is bound to it for the rest of the tournament while the losers in those two rounds are put in the 4A bracket.

“It’s exciting,” sophomore multi-skilled player Taliyah Henderson said of being in the Open Division. “It’s the first in our history of Salpointe. It’s amazing. Hopefully, one of the many firsts. We are ready to play Hamilton and just work to get better, the little things, for sure.

“Make sure to get the scouting report correct for Hamilton and then just be ready to play.”

Salpointe used its size advantage (with Henderson and fellow sophomore Hannah Williams at 6-foot-2) from the scouting report to its advantage against Pueblo on Tuesday night, drawing fouls inside early and senior point-guard captain Bria Medina penetrating to build a 10-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game with Medina scoring six of the points.

Pueblo, beset by cold shooting and early foul trouble for freshman guard America Cazares (18.0 points per game), did not get within seven points the rest of the game.

Cazares picked up her second and third foul at the same time with 15.7 seconds left in the first quarter by committing a foul and subsequently charged with a technical foul.

By that time, Pueblo was 2 of 18 from the field and trailing 17-6.

“We’ve just got to play and make shots,” Galindo said. “My whole thing since I’ve been there, this is my 11th year, is we’ve been outsized by just about every team we play every week so just making sure shots shots fall and stop taking ill-advised shots.”

Pueblo finished shooting 13 of 55 (23.6 percent) from the field and 6 of 25 (24 percent) from 3-point range.

Cazares finished with 12 points, including three made 3-pointers, before fouling out late in the game. Her older sister Victoria Cazares scored 10 points and Mylia Truitt had nine.

Medina led Salpointe with 21 points, including 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.

Allison Even, a 5-foot-11 guard, finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Henderson scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half and Williams had all nine of her points in the first half.

“We have really intelligent players,” Luevano said. “We’re able to get creative with them in practice. We’re able to install small parts of what we try to do and they execute them. It’s fun when you have a team that is, yes, talented but is smart.

“It’s funny today in our pregame, Allison Even (also only a sophomore) is reciting almost my exact same speech that I gave last week before we played Pueblo. She’s saying it to them. I’m standing there watching and it’s funny about exactly what we need to do to beat them and execute. We just have a really smart team.”

Henderson went 11 of 12 from the free-throw line and tallied 14 rebounds — the sixth double-double of the season. The sophomore sensation is being recruited by a number of Power 5 schools including Arizona. Among the others are ASU, Utah, Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Iowa.

Her parents Danica and Anthony were college athletes at Idaho State. Danica played basketball and Anthony, a Salpointe grad, was a linebacker who played his senior year for the Lancers when Dennis Bene began his coaching career in 2001.

“We’ve definitely come a long way,” Henderson said of the Lancers, who adjusted to being without eight players from last year’s team. “We’ve all just come together especially in this closing of the season. Now, starting with the playoffs, we’ve definitely gotten better as a team and connected well.

“We’re all striving for the same goal and that’s to get as far as we can in Open (Division).”


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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