Friday evening's match-up between two of the top girl's basketball programs in the state was a very rare night in girls basketball in the state of Arizona, as West Valley rivals, Valley Vista High School (17-6) and Liberty High School (18-3) faced off with one another in front of a packed house of fans. With the most basketball fans I have seen at a high school game, boys or girls, this high school season, these two teams faced off in an exciting contest that would not disapppoint.
The girl's basketball program and faculty at Valley Vista High School had promoted this exciting contest between these two rivals since the summer months, and it worked as basketball fans filled the gymnasium in record fashion on the evening. With the game also being featured by the AIA online and on television as well, it made for an exciting game to cover and also to watch for the fans in attendance.
Valley Vista has one of the state's most talented girls teams this season and is led by one of the state's premier head coaches, Rachel Matakas. Valley Vista is absolutely loaded with talented girls prospects and has a chance to win it all this season, if they can put it all together at the right time and continue to accept roles as a team.
Liberty also features one of the state's most gifted groups and top head coaches in Alicia Sanchez, and is playing their best basketball of the season already - coming into Friday night's game with one of the best records in the state, and led by one of the state's premier overall players - 6-foot senior guard/forward Courtney Christmas (Arizona Christian signee).
Division-I assistant coaches, Nicolle Powell from the University of Oregon and also Jesse Clark from San Diego State were also in attendance - making for an even more exciting evening for the game's participants. Having Powell in the gymnasium was exciting, as she is one of the elite girl's high school players to ever play in the state, and maybe the best ever.
Liberty would get out to an early lead in the game's first half, as the two teams competed at a high level in front of a packed crowd, with every basket bringing out outbursts from the fans for both teams. After a mid-range jumper from 5-foot-10 senior forward Makayla Enders with 2:40 left to play in the first half, Liberty would get some breathing room - 23 to 17. Another driving basket in transition by 5-foot-8 junior guard Anissia Hughes with :40 seconds left to play in the half would push Liberty ahead 26-19, just before the half.
A long-range three-pointer by Valley Vista's 5-foot-8 junior guard Cerena Reeves would bank in off the backboard, just before the halftime buzzer, to bring Valley Vista within two points - 26-24 at the half.
Matakas would get her team fired up at halftime, as only she can do, and the Monsoon would come out on fire in the game's second half - quickly taking over the game's lead. With 6 minutes left to play in the third period, rising 6-foot-1 sophomore star forward Kiara Edwards would make her presence felt, as she would collect an offensive rebound and a put-back inside. After another driving layup in transition and on the secondary break for Valley Vista, superb 5-foot-10 freshman guard Rayah Craig would convert a nice basket to give Valley Vista a 26-32 lead.
Liberty would regain a one-point lead with 1:32 left to play on a driving basket from Anissia Hughes, and then would tie the game at 42 all late in the third period after a three-pointer from the wing by 5-foot-10 junior forward Kayla Macedo.
Edwards would give her team a 44-42 lead heading into the fourth period, after another offensive rebound and put-back at the buzzer.
Valley Vista would get an inspired defensive effort on the night from 5-foot-9 junior forward Alexis "AC" Contreras. Contreras would take a strong charge and also collect several rebounds in the fourth period to keep her team ahead in the contest. Late in the fourth period, Contreras would also knock down some key free throws to help her team hold on to the lead. The ball handling and passing from star freshman prospects Craig, and also superb 5-foot-9 freshman guard Taylor Chavez would also ignite the team in the fourth period.
After two free-throws from Contreras with 1:18 left to play in the game, Valley would hold on to a 57-50 lead - a lead that they would not give up, as Liberty would fail to convert three-pointers late in the game. Valley Vista would cruise to a big 66-54 home victory - a game that they sorely needed to keep pace in the state's tough Division-I Class.
This game seemed to be a preview of an exciting playoff match-up that we could see again in this year's Division-I state playoffs. These are two of the state's premier teams and both teams should only continue to improve late in the season.