WILLIAMS — The tale of two teams.
Heading into the seventh-place game of the Williams Pepsi Tournament Saturday morning, Grand Canyon's boys basketball team had to be wondering which Phantom squad would show up.
The Phantoms' Mitchell Walker scored a career-high 39 points against Williams on Nov. 27. (Photo by Brad Fuqua)
Would it be the team that digs itself a big hole in the first half, only to fall short in a second-half rally? Or would it be the Phantoms capable of playing a good all-around game with a chance to win?
Mogollon found out it would be the latter. The Phantoms downed the Mustangs for seventh place, 68-66.
Grand Canyon led most of the way but Mogollon stayed close and took a 64-63 lead with 2:50 left in the game.
Big plays by sophomore Kendall Kachinhongva and senior Mitchell Walker knocked Mogollon down. Kachinhongva came up with a steal under the basket and made a simple layup to give Grand Canyon a 65-64 lead with 1:33 remaining.
Walker then nailed a three-pointer with 35 seconds left in the game to seal the win for the Phantoms.
As has been the case so far this season, Walker was again a force for the Phantoms with 31 points, including five three-pointers.
"We've been emphasizing that the rest of the boys have to pick it up," Grand Canyon coach Dan Lopez said. "Mitchell stays composed. He's an amazing kid."
Walker did have plenty of help in the victory over Mogollon with little brother Tempy Walker scoring 15 and Kachinhongva finishing with 10.
Grand Canyon jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the first 90 seconds with a hoop by Michael Vincent, a three-point play by Kachinhongva and Mitchell Walker's first basket.
Mogollon regrouped to take a 12-11 lead later in the quarter, but the Phantoms went on a 7-2 run for the 18-14 lead after eight minutes.
Three-pointers by Mitchell Walker and Kachinhongva in the final three minutes boosted the team.
In the second quarter, Grand Canyon steadily increased its lead and had its biggest advantage of the game with 3:31 left in the first half. Tempy Walker hit a three-pointer to put the team up 38-21, a spread of 17 points.
Mogollon's chances for a comeback looked slim, but the Mustangs would not roll over. The Class 2A school went on an 8-0 run to finish the half and trailed by only seven heading into the third quarter.
Grand Canyon again upped its lead to double figures, 47-37, in the third quarter. The Mustangs chipped away at the deficit. Zach Gillicott's basket with three seconds left in the third pulled Mogollon to within four points.
That set up a thrilling fourth with several key plays. Grand Canyon took a seven-point lead with 6:07 left in the game with a pair of Mitchell Walker free throws.
Mogollon responded with an 8-0 run to take a 60-59 lead. Both teams struggled at the free-throw line down the stretch. In the fourth quarter, Mogollon was 0-for-4 at the line while Grand Canyon was 2-for-8.
With the missed opportunities at the line, Grand Canyon could not ice the game. The two teams traded baskets over the next few minutes, leading up to Kachinhongva's steal and layup.
Mogollon had a chance to tie or take the lead with free throws, but neither would fall. Grand Canyon was then called for traveling with 55 seconds left, but Mogollon turned the ball over right back.
Mitchell Walker then hit his fifth three-pointer of the game with 35 seconds left for a 68-64 lead.
Mogollon's Kevin Camp scored to bring the Mustangs to within two with 23 seconds left. Grand Canyon missed on the front end of one-and-one situations twice in the final 20 seconds to keep Mustang hopes alive.
At the buzzer, Mogollon got off a three-point attempt, but it bounced off the rim and the Phantoms had escaped with the victory in one of the most exciting games of the entire tournament.
The win salvaged some satisfaction for Grand Canyon in this year's event.
The Phantoms were looking forward to the opener Thursday vs. Fredonia. But the school did not allow the bus to travel down to Williams because of snow-packed roads.
As it turned out, Grand Canyon was the only school to not show up for the first day's games.
"They were disappointed to not play," Lopez said. "Fredonia made it, Ash Fork made it, we didn't."
Fredonia was given a forfeit win and the Phantoms fell down into the loser's bracket, knowing there was no way they could reach the championship game before even playing.
Lopez said Thursday's disappointment carried over to Friday in the Phantoms' 58-50 loss to Ash Fork.
The Spartans jumped out to a 22-6 lead in the first quarter before the Phantoms woke up. Grand Canyon outscored Ash Fork the rest of the way but could not recover from the early deficit.
"We cut it to five in the second half," Lopez said. "But the hole was too deep."
Ash Fork's lead dwindled to five with 90 seconds left in the game. The Spartans then hit key shots to protect the win.
The Phantoms struggled from the free-throw line, making 5-of-12.
Mitchell Walker scored 22 points in the loss. For the tourney, he averaged 26.5 points per game.In the tourney's five years, Grand Canyon's boys have sported a 5-13 record, winning one game in each of the tournaments.
Earlier in the week, Williams downed Grand Canyon in a regular-season game, 67-58.
The two teams stayed close in the first quarter before the Vikings opened up a 16-point lead by halftime.
The Phantoms steadily chipped away at the deficit and trailed, 60-53, with 1:12 left in the game.
Grand Canyon's Tempy Walker hit a three-pointer with 22 seconds left to pull the team to within 63-58. But the Vikes hit 4-of-4 free throws the rest of the way to escape with the victory.
Mitchell Walker had a career-high 39 points in the losing cause. Walker hit five three-pointers in the game.
Grand Canyon (3-5) is scheduled to play at Fredonia Friday in the 1A North opener. The team then travels to Peach Springs on Saturday to play Music Mountain in another region matchup.
The team will not return home after the Fredonia game, but stay overnight in St. George, Utah.