Valley Vista girls basketball played 10 players significant minutes during Thursday's renewal of the state's best girls basketball rivalry at Millennium in Goodyear.
Nearly all of them contributed as the Monsoon erased a nine-point deficit on the road. Then the team's two veterans brought the #1 team in 6A home against the #1 team in 5A.
"We're just a team. We play hard and play together. We sacrifice for each other and we're unselfish. We don't care. We just want to win and we know that's the kind of attitude you have to have to go win state. Trust, respect, poise and discipline are key as well," Valley Vista coach Rachel Matakas said.
Junior forward and three-year starter Marisa Davis scored eight of the visitors' 12 fourth-quarter points. Guard Sophia Martinez, Valley Vista's lone senior, hit two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to make it a two-possession game.
That allowed Valley Vista (21-3 overall, 16-0 regular season) to survive Millennium sophomore guard Trayanna Crisp's three-pointer with two seconds left. The clock ran out before an inbounds pass and the Monsoon brought home a 43-42 win.
"Marisa, you can't stop her off the dribble. She's so strong, powerful, athletic and quick. She's such a blessing to have on the team," Matakas said. "She's really worked her butt off this summer and in the preseason, developing how to attack that rim."
Millennium (20-4, 15-1) ran its way to a 28-22 lead at the half. The defenseive pressure of guards Jasmine Signleton, Kylie Grant and Crisp teamed with the shot-blocking prowess of forward Ali Zelaya to create transition opportunities.
Signleton forced a pair of steals and finished on the other end to push the Tigers' lead to 26-17. Grant grabbed five offensive rebounds in the first half.
"We thought we could get out and run and we did a good job of that in the first quarter and at points in the second quarter. I think what slowed us is Valley Vista got a lot of and-ones in that third quarter. When you're fouling the game stops. And when we got the ball back they were set and ready to play defense," Millennium coach Courtland Rojeck said.
On the flip side the Monsoon were throwing bodies at Zelaya in the post. Davis, junior Madison Magee, Saniyah Neverson, and even sophomore wings Isai and Mikela Cooper took turns guarding the North Carolina-bound 6-4 star.
And they were rarely alone. Zelaya finished with eight points. She added nine rebounds and four blocks.
"They did a good job of doubling and triple-teaming Ali every time she touched it, and hedging Tray and following her. We knew going into the game we were going to need some other kids to step up and knock shots down. It didn't happen. I don't put it on any kid - as a coaching staff we need to go back to the drawing board and do better," Rojeck said.
The Monsoon limited Millennium to 14 second-half points through a combination of team defense and a slower pace.
"We talked about communication. It helped our defense because we were talking more. It was easier for us to rebound to stop the ball," Davis said. "We've grown as a team tremendously and we actually trust each other a lot more than last year."
Rojeck lamented his team's free throw shooting. They went 9 for 18 at the line on the night.
Martinez started the second half scoring with a trey. Isai and Davis got to the line, though they went a combined two for five in the quarter.
Neverson hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 32-31 just before the end of the third. Crisp made one of two for a 33-31 Millennium advantage after three.
"Basically all we did was just slow them down. We knew they would struggle in the half-court set and that's what we did. We just pounded it and limited their paint touches in the second half. And we limited rebounding opportunities," Matakas said.
With junior shooting guard Amoret Maxwell out with an injury, Rojeck only used freshman guard Mia Amundsen off his bench. That led the coach to start the fourth quarter with a stall of more than 90 seconds.
A subsequent layup attempt failed and Dixon made one of two foul shots for a 34-31 lead. Davis tied it by completing a three-point play.
Isai then made the decisive play. She dribbled off the wing, switched hands and dished to a cutting Magee for a reverse layup and 36-34 Valley Vista lead with 2:23 left.
"That play felt very good. I was just so grateful for our team and so happy for them. We all needed each other and it showed," Isai said.
Quiet for three quarters, Magee made another crucial play after Davis missed her second free throw with a 37-35 lead. Magee tipped the rebound back to Davis who drove, was fouled and hit both foul shots.
The next time down, Davis drove for another bucket and a commanding 41-35 lead at the 1:20 mark. She led her team with 16 points and nine rebounds.
"I think it showed a lot of maturity and I have matured a lot. I kept telling myself that I wasn't going to let my team lose," Davis said.
The Tigers nearly came back with their defense but time was short. Millennium fell to No. 3 in the 5A rankings Friday morning, behind Gilbert and Sunrise Mountain.
Take that with a grain of salt. The Tigers received preparation for a style of game and in a packed house beyond anything they will face in the 5A playoffs.
"The intensity of the rivalry in this game - the crowd and the energy - is more than a state championship game. The arenas can get quiet. At this game, you can't hear anyone. We like having this game at the end of the year because anything we see in the playoffs and they see, it's not going to be in this atmosphere," Rojeck said.
Valley Vista solidified its No. 1 ranking. The Monsoon will face tougher competition in 6A - from defending champion Chandler Hamilton, Phoenix Pinnacle and Gilbert Perry.
To counter that field, this powerhouse counters with what appears to be the deepest of Matakas' teams. The coach has her choice or multiple guards, wings and post players that she can shuttle in depending on what each game requires.
"My subbing is not routine. It's who I want out there and what I need. Rojeck and I play strategy against each other. It's like a chess match. We know each other so well that, honestly, it always comes down to the last second," Matakas said.