Mountain Pointe first-year boys basketball coach Aaron Windler has a tell and it isn’t subtle.
The suit jacket comes off, the pacing begins and he begins to talk to anyone and everyone along the Pride bench. At that point, his blood is running hot and the team cold.
Considering the Pride was up as many as 20 points in third quarter Thursday night it look to be a jacket-on type night.
Only it wasn’t as the jacket-less Windler need not worry as the No. 16 Pride quickly restored order on their way to an 85-64 win over No. 17 Red Mountain in the first round of the Division I state tournament.
“Sometimes when you get a big lead you get complacent,” Windler said. “We did and as a result we got off course a little bit. It happens but what I liked was at the end we made plays. Before I knew it I looked up and we were up 15 again.”
Mountain Pointe had one of its finest shooting nights of the season – the Pride made 10 3-pointers including five by junior Dominic Reyes – and led 50-30 a few seconds into the third quarter on a Jalen Brown (15 points) trey.
Yet Red Mountain (18-11) closed within 63-57 on a 3-pointer by Derek Rojas with 5 minutes left in the game. Soon thereafter the jacket came off Windler, but the Pride didn’t become unhinged.
Mountain Pointe (14-12) showed some poise by withstanding the run and eventually regained control of the game to set up Saturday’s game at No. 1 Corona del Sol.
Senior Khari Holloway, playing his final home game, had a lot to do with it as he scored seven of the next nine points for the Pride as they quickly pushed the lead back out to 72-57 with 3:17 remaining.
“They beat us by one in the second round last year and I just wasn’t haven’t it this year,” said Holloway, who finished with 22 points. “We didn’t think they were going to come back and we lost focus. We can’t do that in the next game. If we get a lead we cannot let up because we will lose.”
Red Mountain coach Greg Sessions said the Pride’s outside shooting was the difference.
“We really thought we could get them to miss a few of those and they did a real nice job on the boards, too,” Sessions said. “It presented us some problems for us. It probably wasn’t the best coaching decision to be honest with you.”
Red Mountain stumbled down the stretch to with four straight defeats to end despite the play of Travis Meeker, who had 31 points and nine rebounds.
“It was such a roller coaster year,” Sessions continued. “We didn’t know what to expect with no starters back and then we kept getting better and better. Our expectations came up and we finished here with a bit a slump.”
The Pride on the other hide just might be finding the right combination. Over the last three games, Mountain Pointe beat Gilbert, lost to Mesa, the top seed in the sectional tournament, by two, and other than a five minute stretch handled Red Mountain pretty easily.
“We are starting to realize our potential and that we can make a big run in the state tournament,” Reyes said. “We’ve come together as a team and that’s what you need to do in February.”
Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.