Mountain Pointe first-year basketball coach Kaimarr Price vowed before the season to have the most well-conditioned team in the state.
He wanted his players to have the ability to quickly push the ball up the floor on nearly every possession in an effort to tire out opponents.
The grueling hours of preseason conditioning was the difference Saturday night, as Mountain Pointe outpaced two-time defending 6A champion Pinnacle to move on the semifinals after an 82-73 win.
The Pride, ranked No. 11 in 6A, will travel to face seventh-ranked Chandler on Thursday with a trip to the championship game on the line.
“Schools may get players that are more technically skilled than us, but if we can dictate pace and run, that equalizes a bunch of that stuff for us,” Price said. “I’m very proud. These are the types of efforts we were looking for in the summer.”
Mountain Pointe went to right to its fast-paced transition offense from the tip, capitalizing on a Pinnacle team that appeared to be one step behind. Junior point guard Jason Kimbrough, using his combination of speed and strength, drove to the basket on three straight possessions to help the Pride jump out to a 10-5 lead midway through the first.
Pinnacle, led by the duo of 6-foot guard Marcus Libman and 6-foot-8 wing Tosh Baker, both of whom signed to play Division I college football, responded quickly to Mountain Pointe’s outburst in the first quarter.
The Pioneers played up to Mountain Pointe’s tempo throughout much of the first half, taking and maintaining a lead throughout thanks to Libman’s ability to shoot from anywhere on the floor and Baker’s dominant presence inside.
Libman scored 11 of his 20 points in the first half. Baker had 12 in the first half and 24 overall. Kimbrough, meanwhile, helped keep the Pride in the game with 15 of his 30 points coming in the first two quarters of play.
“For Jason being really the only experienced player we have, and how hard me and his dad are on him all the time, it’s tough on him,” Price said. “But to see him respond in big moments like this is great.”
Mountain Pointe kept the game close in the first few minutes of the third quarter thanks to its ability to capitalize on turnovers on the other end of the floor.
Anthony Jamarillo, a 6-foot-1 sophomore guard, had three steals and saved a would-be turnover from going out of bounds. All of which ended in points for the Pride. He also had 11 points of his own.
“We talked about not letting up and staying tight,” Jamarillo said of the defensive game plan. “That’s when we started creating turnovers and getting steals. We got on a run.”
More lockdown defense, combined with the Pride’s speed appearing to finally catch up to Pinnacle, resulted in eight straight points for Kimbrough – a layup and two three pointers – to give Mountain Pointe its first lead since the first quarter.
One of Kimbrough’s three pointers caused forced fans out of their seats in the near-capacity gym, as it came after a crossover on the Pinnacle defender.
Mountain Pointe continued to apply pressure offensively down the stretch, ultimately resulting in several free throws by Kimbrough and senior guard Miles Sulka to extend the Pride’s lead for good.
Sulka scored 11 points, while senior guard TJ Tigler scored 14 off the bench. Mark Brown, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard, had 12 points for the Pride.
“Them being the defending champs, they came in and gave us a game,” Kimbrough said. “But we are still here. We aren’t done yet.”
Price and Kimbrough both credited junior forward Zereoue Williams for his work in the paint against a larger Baker. Williams finished with 5 points on the night, but his physical play in the second half played a key role on both ends of the floor.
Thursday’s meeting between Mountain Pointe and Chandler will be the second of the season. On Dec. 4, the Wolves beat the Pride 74-70 before several key transfers for Chandler were eligible.
“We feel like the best team doesn’t win championships but the team that peaks at the right time does,” Price said. “It doesn’t matter what we did tonight, we have to game plan for Chandler. They’re very talented and like us, want to play fast.
“It should be a fun game.”