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PODCAST: Sahuaro coach Jim Henry talks about Cougars in 4A state championship game

Sahuaro returns Thursday night to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, where the Cougars won their first state championship 54 years ago under legendary coach Dick McConnell.

One of McConnell’s top players on that 1969-70 team was senior Dave Henry, who came off the bench to score 21 points against Glendale in the AAA championship.

Another Henry from Sahuaro — head coach Jim Henry (no relation to Dave) — will face a team from Glendale — Deer Valley — for the 4A championship at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.

The teams met only two weeks ago at Deer Valley, where the fourth-seeded Cougars (24-4) fell short 69-66 in overtime in a first-round game of the Open Division tournament.

“We know they’re good,” Jim Henry said in the lastest All Sports Tucson Talk podcast. “They shoot the ball really well. They’ve got three guards who all can shoot from the perimeter, so we’re going to have to definitely get dialed in on the 3-point line and limit our mistakes.”


2023-24 stats for Sahuaro's boys basketball team
0Cisco LlamasSo18.
21Nick PondsSr13.
3Ayumu LaraJr9.
30Jamal AliJr8.
4Bryce Marine BessSr5.
2Julian YazonSr4.
1Jamaal McCraneyJr4.
32Teddy SimpsonJr2.
24Nico SalterSr1.
20Elijah SantiniJr1.
25Zander BashamJr0.

No. 3 Deer Valley has the Gonzales twins — sophomores Sergio and Simon — and Travis Vasquez, allo of whamare difficult for opponents to manage on both ends of the cout.

Sahuaro’s backcourt combination of Cisco Llamas at the point and Nick Ponds at the off-guard and wing position held its own in the loss at Deer Valley two weeks ago.

Llamas and Pounds combined for 43 of Sahuaro’s 66 points in the first meeting.

The Cougars showed much more balance in Monday’s 55-51 win at No. 1 ALA-Gilbert North in the semifinal upset.

Ponds led Sahuaro with 13 points and Llamas added 12 while post player Jamal Ali had seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter, including a crucial 3-pointer that cut into ALA-Gilbert North’s five-point lead.

Ayumu Lara made two free throws with 26.9 seconds left to help ice the win for Sahuaro.

Others such as Jamaal McCraney and Bryce Marine Bess have made timely plays and have contributed greatly on the defensive end.

“I can keep going on and on,” Henry said of the contribution of his players. “Obviously, Nick and Cisco are really, really good but the run (to the championship game) has been fueled by a lot of the guys having key moments.”

Henry, in his 14th season with finally the opportunity to reach the state championship game and take home a title. served as an assistant coach under McConnell from 2004 to 2007 before McConnell retired.

Henry is a Sahuaro alum he didn’t play basketball at the school after getting cut as a freshman but he pursued a career in coaching the sport.

He has never endured a losing season in his tenure as head coach of the Cougars. His record at Sahuaro is 265-118.

He credits that type of success to his staff of Matt Botkin and Chris Wharam for staying with him throughout his 14 years.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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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