Arcadia girls dominate en route to state semifinal showdown with Chaparral

Arcadia senior guard Bryce Nixon drives to the basket with Centennial senior guard Taylor Leonard defending during Saturday’s 5A girls basketball quarterfinal in Peoria. (Donna Mundy/Special to Independent Newsmedia)

Pace and space and positionless basketball have become the buzzwords at all levels of hoops in the last five years.

More teams than ever attempt to speed up play, roll out smaller lineups and shoot a high volume of threes. But only the truly successful squads play fast and space the floor while still properly running their offensive sets and can press opponents while covering up the gaps in the back of the defense.

Saturday afternoon the Arcadia girls team was, as it has been for much of the past eight seasons, a textbook example of this style of play. The No. 5 seed Titans jumped to a 11-0 lead at No. 4 Peoria Centennial and, after they answered junior Jamia Clark’s three-point play with senior Bryce Nixon’s three-point shot, never lead the Coyotes get within single digits in a 66-32 rout in the 5A quarterfinals.

“Looking at Centennial I thought they were a lot like us in the sense that they had talented players at all the different positions. We really wanted to make sure we kept the defensive pressure up. We felt like if we could put a lot of pressure out front, we could impact their drive game inside,” Arcadia coach Ives Machiz said. “Centennial is a quality team so we didn’t expect to jump on them that early. We helped the helper and covered.”

Arcadia’s dominant performance sets up a third shot at top seed Scottsdale Chaparral in a state semifinal at 6 p.m. Tuesday in Wells Fargo Arena on the campus of ASU.

Arcadia senior guard Cassidy Campbell attempts a layup against the defense of Centennial sophomore forward Ashley Lifgren in a 5A girls basketball quarterfinal in Peoria Saturday. (Donna Mundy/Special to Independent Newsmedia)

Nixon got the snowball rolling for Arcadia (26-3) Saturday with 10 points in the first quarter as the Titans grabbed a 21-10 lead.

The University of Arizona commit kept up the pace and had 20 points at half as her team led 45-22. She sank three from long range and stretched the defense as her teammates grabbed offensive rebounds and set a series of screens at the top of the key to free her.

“Everybody goes out and does their role, and (Bryce) 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. “Bryce controls the floor a lot. She knows what she wants to see and where she wants players to be. It’s like having a coach out there and I just sit on the bench and chill out.”

Centennial (24-5) star senior guard Taylor Leonard was on the receiving end of most of those screens and picked up several of her five fouls fighting through them.

It was a daunting task, being asked to guard one of the state’s top players and navigate a trapping defense constantly sending a second player over with the goal of forcing her to give up the ball. The senior, who recently passed the 1,500-point mark her career, had seven points in her final game as a Coyote.

“Bryce works off and on the ball like the great player she is. It was a tall task, and they did a heck of the job with screens,” Visintainer said.

When the Coyotes navigated the traps, their two non-senior rotation players were the ones with the best idea of how to finish, or at least draw fouls.

Clark led the team with 11 points and five rebounds. Sophomore forward Ashley Lifgren added six points and three boards.

“They’ve all kind of coalesced together and done a good job. We’ll see what next year brings. It’s all a little too close now to think about. I couldn’t be prouder of Jamia and Ashley,” Visintainer said.

Arcadia received solid contributions from all of its primary six players. Nixon led all scorers with 26.

Senior Cassidy Campbell scored 13 points and senior Dylan Watkins added 10. Senior Taylor Houser grabbed seven rebounds and senior post Lauren Dib added four boards. Senior Jada DuBois sank a pair of threes.

“(Machiz) has done a very good job there for years. They executed exceptionally well tonight and we didn’t have a lot of answers,” Visintainer said. “Things weren’t falling early and we got behind. Things started to snowball.”

The Titans are peaking in the playoffs, having dismantled Oro Valley Ironwood Ridge 56-26 in the first round.

In its regular season finale, Arcadia fell 54-53 at Chaparral, storming back after being held to two points in the first quarter.

The Firebirds also won 54-42 at Arcadia in January. Pinnacle is the only other team that beat the Titans, who, needless to say, look forward to one more crack at their district rival. 

“Chaparral is another quality team and obviously, we haven’t proven we can beat them. But I do know they had a lead on us and we scored the last 13 points of the basketball game. The bottom line is, we’re not going to go in feeling like prohibitive underdogs. We’re going to go in knowing they’ve very good but feeling like we can do it,” Machiz said.

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