The Kellis Cougars girls basketball team remained in the #19 spot in the March 5 rankings even after it beat Centennial March 4 and three teams ranked just ahead of it lost.
But a deeper dive into the math behind the numbers Kellis enters its season finale tonight with a shot to jump into the 16-team bracket. Before Thursday night its ranking was more than two full points behind then #16 Cienega.
Cienega beat #15 Buena, and #17 McClintock and #17 Paradise Valley both lost. Kellis (9-6) beat Centennial 56-38 Thursday and now is less than half a point behind McClintock and Paradise Valley and less then a full point back of new #16 Buena.
"It's been good to see them finally get their moment to shine. The last few years we haven't done so well. This year we're kind of on a hot streak," Kellis coach Shanelle Haskins said. "It's been really fun to watch them develop and play really well together. They've really put in a lot of work and effort and showed the younger girls."
Senior guard Xavierre Garcia led the Cougars with 20 points. Her growth, plus that of fellow seniors Rene Corrales and Kylie Becenti has been the story of this program's improvement.
One more large obstacle remains, #11 Apollo. If the Cougars upset the Hawks at home tonight, the bump should be enough for this program's first playoff berth in six years.
"It means everything because we never know when we're going to be able to play basketball again. For a lot of us seniors, this might be our last run," Garcia said. "It's been super special this year, with 'rona and all the stuff that's been going on we're just grateful to even have a season. To make it to playoffs after this not making it for six years would mean so much to us."
The visiting Cougars led Centennial 31-22 at halftime March 4. Early in the third quarter the Coyotes cut it to 33-28 and Kellis turned to a full-court press.
Haskins' team finished the quarter with a 10-4 run and was not challenged in the fourth.
"We've recently been really working on that because we want to be really aggressive. When I went to school here we were known for being aggressive. In the last few weeks we've worked on that so we can cause a little bit of chaos," Haskins said.
One again sophomore post player Kiley Miller paced Centennial (4-12) with 22 points and 19 rebounds. The Coyotes mostly struggled getting the ball into halfcourt sets to use her advantage inside.
Freshman Akasha Prpich hit a couple threes late in the first half and junior guard Mac Rojas added five points.
"I think they believe they can win. They battle each night," Centennial coach Brady Rath said. "What we lack is just experience and girls make mistakes that they wouldn't if they had more playing time, whether that's with the club team or working on your skills."
Haskins said a playoff berth would mean the world to her seniors and that it's difficult to see their opportunities diminished because the COVID-shortened season has led to a 16-team field.
The third-year coach and her staff are all Kellis graduates and have watched this team grow the old-fashioned way.
"Honestly it's been really emotional, knowing where we started and having girls who weren't really comfortable and didn't feel like they fit in with the program. We started with a team that didn't have a winning record and it was really rough," Garcia said. "This team's got heart. It's not a one- or two-person show. It's everybody. We can trust each other and play the game of basketball we really enjoy."