The Centennial girls basketball team entered the quarterfinals with their best season since the 2006-2007 season with a match up Feb. 17 against one of the top-ranked players in the country staring them down.
Phoenix Arcadia’s Bryce Nixon, ranked among the top 50 national recruits, dominated early, as the Titans never trailed in defeating the Coyotes 66-32.
“Looking at Centennial, I thought they were a lot like us, in the sense that they had talented players at all the different positions and we really wanted to make sure we kept the defensive pressure up,” Arcadia coach Ives Machiz said. “We felt like if we could put a lot of pressure out front, we could impact their drive game inside and Centennial is a quality team, so we didn’t expect to jump on them that early. We helped the helper and covered.”
Nixon scored 26, 20 in the first half, as the Titans jumped on the Coyotes from the opening tip off. Arcadia scored the first 11 points before Centennial’s Jamia Clark grabbed a rebound, boxed the defense out and put in a basket while being fouled. Clark hit the free throw for the Coyotes’ first points of the game.
Arcadia controlled the game early as the Coyotes turned the ball over numerous times with Nixon, Jada DuBois and Dylan Watkiss each had three steals in the first quarter as the Titans led by 11, which would be the closest the Coyotes would get in the game.
“Everybody goes out and does their role, and Nixon is willing to go out and set screens and dish the ball off. We did a better job, actually, of setting screens tonight than we normally do, which is good to see,” Machiz said. “(Nixon) controls the floor a lot and she knows what she wants to see and where she wants players to be. She is like having a coach out there and I just sit on the bench and chill out, which makes my job easier sometimes.”
Centennial was led by Clark, who had 11, while Coyotes’ leading scorer during the regular season, Taylor Leonard, was held to seven points. Clark added five rebounds, while Ashley Lifgren pulled down four in the loss.
“We wanted to keep (Leonard) from getting off and our defense did a great job of controlling her tonight,” Machiz said. “We didn’t want her to get open and we kept the pressure on her all night.”
Arcadia’s Cassidy Campbell scored 13 and Dylan Watkins dropped in 10, as the Titans extended their lead to 45-22 at halftime. They cruise into the semifinals against top-seeded Scottsdale Chaparral (25-5) while Centennial ends the season 24-5.
“I’m proud of my kids and we got 24 wins. Leonard and Sloan have been with me four years and it is tough to see them move on,” Centennial head coach Matt Visintainer said. “They’ve done a great job representing what we’ve been for a long time, both on and off the court. This is a rough loss, because you love being around these kids. Basketball aside, they’re just great kids. They’re fun to be around.”