Valley Vista grinds out win in another bout with Millennium

Defense dominates state's top girls basketball rivalry

Posted 1/5/22

Millennium had all the momentum entering the final four minutes of its annual  marquee girls basketball showdown with Valley Vista Jan. 4.

But Valley Vista senior guard Jennah Isai scored eight points - six on free throws - in the final two minutes to nail down a 42-39 victory.

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Valley Vista grinds out win in another bout with Millennium

Defense dominates state's top girls basketball rivalry


Millennium had all the momentum entering the final four minutes of its annual  marquee girls basketball showdown with Valley Vista Jan. 4.

The Tigers erased an 8-point halftime deficit to tie it at 30 and Monsoon freshman Destiny Lunan fouled out. Millennium senior guard Trayanna Crisp pulled up for a three and a 33-30 lead with 3:30 left but fouled out soon after.

Millennium was still up 37-34 with two minutes  remaining.  Valley Vista senior guard Jennah Isai scored eight points - six on free throws - to nail down a 42-39 victory.

“We’re really a resilient group. I think playing the highly competitive teams every day like in Nike and La Jolla, we’ve seen this intensity and this speed. There was a lot of time left so we needed to relax, be composed and play together,” Matakas said.

Sophomore guard Elli Guiney and junior forward  Kayda Pierce both  scored in the final three minutes to regain a three -point lead for the home team.

But things fell apart for Millennium (8-5) from there. Isai hit four straight free throws with a lost Tigers possession in between, then a Qeirnin Acevedo steal led to an Isai step through layup and 40-37 lead.

Semior forward Mikela Cooper made another steal but ended up missing a layup. Matakas said Cooper made a huge play defensively in the final minute that forced Millennium to scramble.

Guiney hit a bucket for 40-39. Isai made one of two free throws, then stole the ball, was fouled and  again hit one of two.

Millennium had one last shot in the final 4.8 seconds, and needed a couple extra tenths. Guiney rebounded, drove up the court and kicked out to junior guard Cecilia Cabrero who hit a three - that was ruled to be released after the buzzer.

“It’s not something where we can worry about a call, or whether a shot got off. We had the lead and gave up the lead. Period. The refs did not cause us to turn over the ball or make mistakes here and there. What the girls did that I’m really proud of is, they were together in it during those last moments. They were good in time outs and executed everything we asked,” Millennium coach Kevin Thomas said.

The Tigers showed real growth in their first game after break - and a tough 1-3 stretch in a top Nike Tournament of Champions bracket.

Millennium trailed Valley Vista (10-3) 22-14 at halftime. Guiney scored first to open the second half, and Crisp scored the Tigers' next three bucket to tie the game at 24 midway through the third quarter.

“We really struggled running our actions early and they took us out of what we thought we were going to be able to do. We wanted to spread the floor so we would be able to drive it. We had some success there. We wanted to get the ball to Elli inside and let Tray play in space. There’s a few possessions at the end of the game where I thought we were sped up and a little frazzled. We haven’t been in that type of environment holding a lead before,” Thomas said.

Crisp scored 11 of her team high 14 points in just more than 12 minutes of the second half. Guiney played a complete floor game, hitting five of seven shots for 10 points, and adding 10 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.

In the second half, the Tigers did a better job of spreading the court and allowing their two stars to create. Millennium also alternated using Crisp and Guiney to initiate the offense to avoid being predictable.

“We probably played 80 percent defense and 20 percent offense that was efficient, if you even want to call it that,” Matakas said. “He was smart. He knew we had a lot of kids with four fouls and he wanted to expose it one-on-one. We were having to switch a lot of defenders. That’s why in practice we do a lot of defensive stuff. Even (guard Olivia Arvallo) can play the low post position.”

Valley Vista came in after a better 2-2 record in the top high school Nike TOC - beating national top 20 ranked McDonogh (Maryland) then losing to national top 20 teams Etiwanda (California) and Bishop McNamara (Maryland).

Against their rival, the Monsoon offense struggled all night. Isai was the game's high scorer with 22, but turnovers and offensive fouls plagued Valley Vista.

“We kind of fragmented as a team because we got frustrated. We weren’t getting, necessarily, what we thought we could get. We were making bad decisions with the ball,” Matakas said. “We have young, inexperienced kids that sometimes don’t know how to read the defense and go for too much.”

Both teams have major out-of-state tests next week before very different season-ending stretches.

Millennium heads  to Stockton, Calif. for the MLK Classic Jan. 14-15. The Tigers have two games left with undefeated Waddell Canyon View, including one Jan. 6, plus one with top 5A contender Sunrise Mountain.

“They did everything we asked them to do defensively. Coach T (Tamika Rochele) and Coach Charles (Wilson) came up with that defense, and we agreed to run it and it worked. That’s a low score for that team. They have a lot of firewpower,” Thomas said. “As a coach, I’d like to see us get more of our offense. Absolute credit to them defensively. They are a fantastic defensive time, like any Matakas team. But we need to be more efficient offensively and that starts with me.”

Tuesday night almost certainly represented the best chance an Arizona team had to beat the Monsoon. Phoenix Xavier Prep hosts Valley Vista Jan. 19 but by then transfers Hannah Young (a junior forward from Xavier) and Jocelyn Chavez (a sophomore guard from Dysart) are eligible.

Next week the Monsoon head to Las Vegas for another national spotlight tournament.

“I’m excited that Hannah becomes active the 15th and Jocelyn becomes active the 15th. Those are big pieces that are going to change a lot with this team. They’ve been practicing with us. They work hard and are high intensity and highly committed kids. At the end of the day, we’re going to look a little different," Matakas said.


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