PHOENIX - It's hard to compete with the best team in the nation.

When speed and size are perfectly in sync, it's hard to keep up.

When fundamentals, such as ball control, passing and layups, are completely sound, it's hard to make stops.

When defense is played at the highest level of intensity, it's hard not to back down against a team ranked as high as No. 1 in the nation.

Nineteenth-seeded Mountain Pointe found out the hard way what it's like to play the best team in the nation, losing to No. 3 St. Mary's 76-38 in the second round of the Division I state tournament on Friday.

"They take advantage of every little thing you do wrong," Pride coach Trevor Neider said. "You can't simulate that speed (or) that size. It just kept going on and on."

This season, Mountain Pointe (22-10) placed a great deal of focus on making enough plays on the defensive end of the ball to carry offensive struggles. In other words, the Pride played half-court basketball and it worked in games when there were plays to be made on defense.

Unfortunately for them, playing against the Knights didn't allow for that. St. Mary's (27-0) took satisfaction in its full-court style of play, mimicking the "Seven Seconds or Less" scheme Mike D'Antoni used to employ with the Phoenix Suns.

"I'm really pleased with the way we're playing right now," St. Mary's coach Curtis Ekmark said. "We're peaking at the right time. We're starting to play our best basketball."

When matched up against the Knights, Mountain Pointe wasn't able to play fast or opportunistic, which was a main reason St. Mary's was able to get out to a 36-5 lead after the first quarter.

From that point on, the beating and bruising never stopped. Perfect passes were made, fast breaks were unstoppable and the Knights' swarming defense took a toll on the Pride.

Junior Shilpa Tummala led the Knights with 23 points, two rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block. Freshman Courtney Ekmark finished with 15 points, two rebounds, two assists and a steal, while junior Cortnee Walton scored 14 points to go along with her seven rebounds, three steals and one block.

"I think we're just going to stay with the same things that we've been trying to do all year long," Courtney Ekmark said. "We're not going to change anything (and) we're not going to do anything special."

The Knights advance to Monday's quarterfinals where they will take on No. 6 Desert Vista at 4:15 p.m. at ASU's Wells Fargo Arena.

For Mountain Pointe, Neider emphasized leaving at the end of the game feeling like each player had given everything.

"We tried to rebound and be strong with the ball and play hard," Neider said. "That was what we wanted to come in and leave with that idea: ‘Mountain Pointe played hard. They don't roll over and die.'"

And the Pride never did.

They even won the second half, 23-18. Twelve of the Pride's second-half points came from senior forward Hannah Sharpe, who led the team with 14 points and seven rebounds.

For Mountain Pointe sophomore Maddy Sulka, a loss like the one her team experienced is one to learn from.

"Mountain Pointe High School has been improving in basketball over the years and we got to play the No. 1 team in the nation and we got to see how a real team handles the ball," said Sulka, who scored six points. "It was just a great learning experience."

Chris Cole is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.


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