2023-24 Girls Basketball

No. 1 Salpointe earns fourth straight 4A Kino title by turning back feisty No. 5 Sahuaro

Salpointe’s players holding the three previous 4A Kino championship plaques along with this season’s plaque after the 68-49 win Wednesday night over Sahuaro to improve to 8-0 in the region (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Salpointe coach Joseph Luevano when told his team is blowing out opponents lately mentioned he sees it differently.

“We’re not blowing people away; we’re playing hard,” he said before the Lancers defeated Sahuaro 68-49 at the Cougars’ Dick McConnell Gym on Wednesday night.

Salpointe (20-3, 8-0 4A Kino) earned its fourth straight region title while compiling a 10-game winning streak.

In the previous nine wins in the streak, Salpointe’s average margin of victory was by 45.6 points (not a typo).

Luevano is not judging his top-rated team in 4A by how many points they win but by their effort.

When his team was outscored 15-3 by Sahuaro in the second quarter and trailed late in the third quarter, Luevano was not all too pleased with that effort.

Fifth-rated Sahuaro controlled many of the rebounds in the second quarter when it overcame a 10-point deficit to lead 25-23 at halftime.

To compound the early difficulty for Salpointe, starting forward Hannah Williams was not in attendance because she was ill.

“We needed that wakeup call,” Luevano said. “I’ve got to give credit to my kids. They’re tired right now, at this time of the season. It’s not just the basketball side; this is our third week of playing three games in the same week.

“Their academic schedule is burning them out. Almost all of my kids are in honors or AP (advanced placement) classes, so we’re burning the candle on both ends here a little bit.”

Early on, Sahuaro coach Steve Botkin’s team looked like it was in for another drubbing against Salpointe after the Lancers dispatched the Cougars 68-37 at Salpointe on Jan. 16.

Sahuaro (20-8, 5-3) trailed 20-10 at the end of the first quarter after Lancer guard Jordan Watts (oldest daughter of former Sunnyside great Jermaine Watts) made two 3-pointers and posted eight points in the quarter.

Watts’ early performance was pivotal because Salpointe standout forward Taliyah Henderson — recruited by numerous Division I programs, including Arizona — picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game and sat for most of the first half.

The Cougars eventually took advantage of Henderson’s absence, especially around the basket, by dominating the second quarter behind eight points from forward Cassie Coolidge (who led the Cougars with 18 points).

“I love the way our team works hard and never gives up,” Botkin said.

After a stern talk from Luevano in the locker room at halftime, Salpointe set the tone early by going to Henderson in the paint.

She made a shot in the first 10 seconds of the third quarter and converted a 3-point play shortly thereafter to give Salpointe a 30-27 lead.

After Allison Even’s drive to the basket gave Salpointe a 32-27 lead, Sahuaro scored seven unanswered points.

Coolidge’s 3-pointer with 3:42 left in the third quarter gave the Cougars a 34-32 lead.

“We realized we had to get our act together,” Even said. “We knew we could play better as a team together.”

Sahuaro hit a wall, namely Salpointe’s full-court pressure defense.

The Lancers converted after a string of steals to go on a 18-0 run, behind five points from Even and four points each from Henderson and Ava Dagnino, to take a 50-34 lead with 15 seconds left in the quarter.

“They are a tremendous team and have a lot of height,” Botkin said. “We turned the ball over against their press too often in the third quarter.

“We are continuing to improve and hope to keep getting better as (the) state (playoffs) starts in a couple of weeks.”

Even scored Salpointe’s first two baskets in the fourth quarter to help the Lancers keep their momentum.

“Allison Even is, I don’t know, pound for pound, the toughest kid,” Luevano said. “Her and Taliyah — you saw it, you saw what they did — they were the difference. How people are not talking about Allison Even — she’s one of the top three players in this whole city.

“People need to talk about her because she’s amazing.”

After Even’s early scoring in the fourth quarter, netting her 15 points in the game, Sahuaro did not come closer than 11 points in the final period.

“In the locker room (at halftime), we really came together and talked about ownership,” said Henderson, who finished with 18 of her 20 points in the second half. “We know we didn’t do as well and we let their momentum carry them. We kind of got a wakeup call. That’s not how we play.”

The 19-point win is the closest margin of victory for Salpointe in its 10-game winning streak.

The previous closest game was a 22-point win (83-61 final) at Pueblo on Jan. 11.

“All the credit to Coach Botkin and his squad,” Luevano said. “We needed that. We need that punch in the mouth. Not having Hannah Williams tonight played a factor because she brings an extra level of toughness and rebounding.

“She’s just such a presence for us and another scoring option. That was a little bit of a factor but we can’t make excuses. We have such talent that we all have to be ready.”

Ironwood Ridge transfer Sidney Anderson had 13 points for Salpointe and Jordan Watts scored 12 to round out the Lancers’ balanced effort.

Sahuaro’s Ny’Anza Brown contributed 11 points.

“Everything we’re using is preparing for the playoffs,” Luevano said. “We have these opponents that are strong. I mean, Sahuaro is a playoff team, (Thursday’s opponent) Mica Mountain is a playoff team, (next week’s opponent) Paradise Honors is a playoff team … these are nice games for us leading into that.

“We have so much on film to work on tonight and build and do some mental preparation for, so this was good for us. It was unfortunate that we needed that but it was good that we showed up.”


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 in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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