Valley Vista dominates Shadow Ridge early, then holds on


An old basketball adage - "You can't win a game in the first quarter" - took a beating Jan. 24 in Surprise.

Valley Vista blitzed Shadow Ridge in the opening eight minutes, taking a 22-4 lead. The Monsoon held serve on their court until halftime.

After the break, Valley Vista (9-11 overall, 8-4 regular season) did enough to hang on as a scrappy Shadow Ridge (10-11, 6-7) turned up the defensive pressure and turned the defense into offense. The Monsoon sputtered but managed to put away a 60-54 win.

"We have a motto this year: When the pressure is on, we do abnormal things. We're trying to refrain from that because we're a young group. We haven't felt pressure yet If we can control that feeling of pressure we won't do abnormal things, like turn the ball over multiple times which a young team does," Valley Vista coach Ben Isai said.

The Stallions chipped the lead to 10 after three quarters. By the final two minutes, the visitors were within six but could not get any closer.

Senior guard Donovan Johnson led the comeback with 12 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, as well as a central role in the press. Senior forward Glory Nwotite added nine of his 14 points after the break.

"These kids have played hard all year. We have a pretty inexperienced team right now," Shadow Ridge coach Robert Bohon said. "We had guys graduate and had two guys leave for prep school. Our guys have adapted and played hard. They've done everything we've asked them to do."

Shadow Ridge simply started in too big of a hole. And Elijah Thomas played a large part in that.

The junior forward hit three treys in the first quarter en route to 13 of his game-high 19 points. He also paced the Monsoon with 10 rebounds.

Isai said Thomas is skilled enough to get a double double in half his games.

"Elijah's been sick for the first half of our season and he's finally getting to the point where he's one of our studs. He led us. We sat him for a bit because we're trying to build his conditioning. But once he gets that, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with," Isai said.

Chastened by their start, the Stallions clamped down on defense the last three quarters. Early on, their only offensive force was senior guard JaQuan Moore.

Bohon said Johnson, Moore, Nwotite and fellow senior Austin Smalley are "program guys" that have flourished in far larger roles this year. None of them are used to being a main option, but they have kept the team in games with their defense.

"We have to keep playing defense. You look at tonight. They had 60 points and we gave up 22 in the first quarter. The identity we have developed all season is defense. This is kind of an outlier because we've been doing a good job with it all season.

Valley Vista is as inexperienced as its crosstown rival and considerably younger. Isai said freshmen Clayton Werner and Aadem Isai are taking leading leadership role.

Juniors Thomas, Dwayne McKnight and Demari Hackett have flourished in larger roles.

And senior Ka'Leb Connors is making the most of his only opportunity to play varsity basketball.  Connors commanded the offense and chipped in 15 points. 

"Hopefully a JUCO picks him up because he's the type of kid that doesn't care if he plays he wants to be part of something great. He mentors and encourages the younger kids. We're fortunate to have him. He's just a really good kid," Isai said.

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