FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Grand Canyon Phantoms (18-3) swept the field in sectionals at Coconino High School in Flagstaff last week to win the sectional tournament and automatically qualify for the Arizona state tournament.
The Phantoms defeated the Cibeque Wildcats 69-58 on Feb. 6 in the first round, beat the Red Mesa Redskins 73-57 on Feb. 8 in the semi-finals, and claimed the sectional championship by defeating archrivals the El Capitan Eagles 48-45 in the finals on Feb. 9.
The Grand Canyon Lady Phantoms came up just short unfortunately after a stellar regular season. The Lady Phantoms lost in the first round of the sectional tournament 49-34 to the St. Michael Cardinals and failed to advance to the state tournament.
The Phantoms played a great sectional tournament, but that doesn't mean they didn't have to fight for some tough wins.
Against Cibeque, the Grand Canyon boys' basketball team started the game strong and saw itself with a 10-point lead early in the second quarter. But the Phantoms could never extend the lead much more than that the rest of the game.
In fact, the Cibeque Wildcats fought back ferociously in the fourth quarter to cut Grand Canyon's lead to only four points, 60-56.
But the Phantoms stuck to their game plan and continued to feed 6-5 junior forward Joey Bankston and run the offense through him. The Phantoms finished the game on a 9-2 run keyed by Bankston's scoring and passing from the post.
"Joey [Bankston] was playing behind some people in that zone and we need him to work a little harder to get in front of those guys and demand the ball a little more," Grand Canyon Phantoms head coach David Beery said. "Once we got him some touches, if he can't get a good shot up because he gets double or triple teamed, that leads to someone being wide open. He's unselfish and a good passer, as well as a great scorer."
Beery added that his squad came out well in their 1-3-1 zone defense to start the game. He said the Phantoms knew that senior guard Michael Enriquez for Cibeque could really score so his team focused on where he was on the court and did their best to hold him in check.
"We started knocking back on defense which allowed them to get back into the game, they got stuff in transition, our guys got lazy and started reaching," said Beery. "But Cibeque is scrappy, they kept it close in the second half and we could never completely pull away. But that's kind of been the way all year. I just want [my players] to know that teams are going make runs, teams are going to hit shots, especially teams built like that. But I thought we handled it well, they cut it to four and we were able to respond. Instead of playing nervous or differently, we stayed calm and executed our game plan."
Bankston finished with 27 points in an efficient 12-of-18 shooting night to go with his 18 rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Senior guard Loren Talas added 13 points, six assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.
Junior point guard Justin Jarrell scored five points, all at the end of the second quarter, to go with his two assists and three steals. Jarrell hit a big three-pointer and scored on what appeared to be an and-one layup on two straight possessions to help maintain Grand Canyon's halftime lead. Jarrell appeared to have been hit on the head during the dribble-drive penetration and subsequent layup, but no whistle blew.
"Jarrell's been a tough kid, he was the question mark coming into this season," Beery said. "We lost a great senior point guard from last year's team but Justin has stepped up and we worked a lot with him on ball handling and toughness and that has shown this year, he's had a great season."
Senior Luke Streit contributed eight points, eight rebounds, three steals and two assists. Sophomore Jaru Velazquez scored two points, grabbed a rebound and had a steal.
Junior Ethan Berry finished with 14 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals and two blocks.
"Berry played well, he was physical inside, had a couple times he didn't finish near the rim and we felt there was contact but I'm sure the other team would disagree, and that's the way it goes," said Beery. "He did a good job of getting to the right spot; catching the ball strong and even with guys reaching in on him he did a good job of not turning the ball over. His defensive assignment was to guard Enriquez and I thought he did a pretty good job of denying him the ball in the half-court."
Against Red Mesa in the sectional semi-finals, the Phantoms did a great job building a lead and maintaining it for 32 minutes.
Once Grand Canyon made the finals, it marked the third time the Phantoms would play the El Capitan Eagles this season. This third matchup saw much less scoring than the previous two games, but was still just as close.
On Nov. 30 during the regular season, the Phantoms knocked off the Eagles 74-70 on the road. In the rematch at Grand Canyon on Jan. 19, El Capitan pulled off the stunner 72-70. It was no surprise to anyone that the third and final showdown would be a three-point finish.
The Grand Canyon Phantoms play in the state tournament this Saturday at noon at Tim's Toyota in Prescott. The Phantoms will take on the winner of Tempe Prep and Phoenix Christian.
The Grand Canyon Lady Phantoms started slow against the St. Michael Cardinals in the first round of the girls' sectional tournament and could never fully recover. The Cardinals built leads up to as many as 20 points during various points of the game. The Lady Phantoms never gave up though cutting the lead down to 11 points in the second half with the ball and a chance to get it down to single digits.
Unfortunately it just wasn't their night. A few too many missed free throws, open shots, and opportunities cost the Lady Phantoms the game. But they still finished the season with a winning record and their heads held high.