After a huge narrow home victory last week in the state's biggest game ever, in which they ended a dominant Shadow Mountain's 73-game win streak, Pinnacle High School (6-1) returned to action Tuesday night on the road to face #2 ranked Mountain Pointe High School. In a rematch of last year's 6A State Final, the nation's #22 ranked team by Max Preps, would run into a buzz saw, as Mountain Pointe would come up big with a 76-59 home win in front of another large crowd.
Mountain Pointe (8-0) has waited since last season's final game to get their revenge on Pinnacle. In last year's state final, Pinnacle defeated Mountain Pointe almost easily, as the Pride struggled to defend superstar senior guard Nico Mannion and his teammates. This time around, it was just the opposite as Pinnacle would struggle and fail to defend 6-foot-9 senior post Jalen Graham. Graham, a recent de-commit from Santa Clara, would turn in one of the most dominant performances by a post player in the history of Arizona high school basketball.
Amidst a packed house on their home floor, Graham would turn in a dominant defensive and offensive performance, en route to a team-high 22 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. Graham's dominant play inside the paint and around the key, and his ability to block, change and alter shots was very impressive on the night, as Arizona State assistant coaches Rashon Bruno and Anthony Coleman and Grand Canyon's TJ Benson sat courtside to watch the performance. Graham would dominate from start to finish in the contest and proved why he is worthy of early season State Player of the Year consideration.
Mannion and Graham are the two favorites for State Player of the Year honors this season, and, as I mentioned earlier this week to Graham's family, it should come down to who wins it all this season - Pinnacle or Mountain Pointe. If Tuesday night's match-up is any indication, then Graham currently has the upperhand, as his Pride rolled past Pinnacle in blowout fashion on Tuesday evening - a major surprise to basketball enthusiasts across the state, and definitely in the gymnasium at Mountain Pointe Tuesday night.
Pinnacle's 6-foot-10, 260-pound junior post Tosh Baker would get Pinnacle off to a strong start in the game, as he would score 4 of his team's first 6 points in the game. But Jalen Graham would score inside as well, as also help facilitate the Pride offense with crisp passing to open cutters. Mountain Pointe would hold on to a 15-13 lead after a 25-foot three-pointer over a defender just before the buzzer to end the first period.
Pinnacle would keep pace with Mountain Pointe in the second period, after a quick hesitation dribble and then strong two-handed dunk in the lane by Mannion. After another nice layup from Mannion, Graham would score on a mid-range jumper and then turn in a monster highlight of his own. While standing at the high-post, Graham would quickly dribble around his defender and dunked the basketball hard with two hands after being fouled. After the three-point conversion by Graham, senior guard Malik Price would score a layup in the secondary break for the Pride - giving Mountain Pointe a 35-29 lead with :22 seconds left in the first half.
After a nice fade-away jumper from the corner by senior guard Trent Brown, Mountain Pointe would take a 35-31 lead into halftime.
"I just told them this game isn't about beating Nico," said Mountain Pointe Head Coach Kirk Fauske. "It's about our team beating their team. Playing together."
The third period would belong to the Pride, as they would come out fired up in the third period and looking extremely comfortable and confident. A mid-range jumper and a layup inside by 6-foot-7 junior forward DeAndre Henry, and then a strong dunk in the post over a defender from Graham, and then a nice alley-oop pass and another dunk by Graham and Mountain Pointe would jump out to their biggest lead of the game, a 10-point margin - 48-38.
Mannion and his teammates would go cold from the field in the third period, as they looked mentally and physically tired. Even with Pinnacle Head Coach Charlie Wilde screaming at his team throughout the game to attempt to fire them up, Pinnacle would have no answer for Graham and his high intensity teammates, that has proven to be the state's top defensive team that is not called Shadow Mountain. The imposing defense of Graham and Henry in the post, and the intense defensive pressure applied by seniors Malik Price, J'Saan Strover and Rashaan Toombs, and sophomore guard Jason Kimbrough quickly became too much for Pinnacle to handle in the second half.
After another strong two-handed dunk on the baseline by Henry in the fourth quarter, Mountain Pointe would blow the game wide open, 63-42, with 6:14 left to play in the game. Mountain Pointe would knock look back from there, and would cruise to the big 76-59 home win over Pinnacle - taking over the #1 ranking in the state.
The 2017-2018 high school basketball season has officially now taken shape, and has already proven very early in this season to be one of the best seasons the state has ever seen in high school basketball. It was will be a race to the finish by Mountain Pointe and Pinnacle this season, and Graham and Mannion will carry their individual torches this season for the eventual honor for Arizona State Player of the Year, much like the Heisman Trophy race in college football. Both student-athletes are future pros, and we need to enjoy watching these two on the Arizona hardwood for as long as we can - enjoying their exploits on the basketball court.
"We just got to push forward now," said Graham after his team's big win. "I just want to keep winning."
Notes: Mountain Pointe High School's 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Jason Kimbrough had a big coming-out-party on Tuesday evening - finishing with 15 points in his team's win, and knocking down (3) big three-pointers in the game. Kimbrough is among the state's most talented 2021 prospects. An excellent defender, Kimbrough plays with superior confidence on the court, and is a sure-fire gamer. While going up against one of the nation's top guard prospects in Mannion, the young Kimbrough proved his immense value on a big night. He will be a big-time shooter and scorer of the basketball over time, and he is a major reason why the Pride will be tough for some time . . .
Pinnacle was without the services of skilled and sharp-shooting 6-foot-6 senior wing Jordan Mains, who will now miss the entire season, as he plans to have surgery on his knee soon. Mains was a big piece to last year's state championship team. The loss of Mains and also senior guard and nation's top quarterback (football) Spencer Rattler will have Pinnacle looking to gain consistency from lesser known players this season to help Mannion and senior guard Trent Brown. With defenses keying on Mannion all season, it could become very tiring him, especially when Pinnacle faces such national team competition as he will in this week's Hoop Hall West.