First-year head coaches usually savor a victory or two in that inaugural season. The one Basha and Mike Grothaus picked up Thursday afternoon vs. Tempe High likely qualifies as one.
Basha made plays when it counted in the final couple minutes to knock Tempe High from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 75-71 victory in the first round of the annual McClintock Holiday Shootout at Doc Zinke Gym.
Basha (7-5) started fast in the opening period, leading 22-14. The Bears lost that lead quickly in the opening two-plus minutes of the second period, trailing nearly the rest of the way until the game's final minute. A tough reverse layup by Nathan Markovich with just under two minutes left pulled Basha within 69-68.
The Bears stopped Tempe on its next possession and called time with 1:37 to play. Basha worked the ball around with Markovich ending up handling it and drawing defenders near the right side of the key. Markovich whipped a pass to the left baseline corner to Chris Ahern. Ahern got a great look and sank a 3 with 1:10 left to give Basha its first lead since midway through the second (71-69) — a lead it wouldn't lose in the final minute.
Tempe (9-1), which competes in Division II and has dominated foes in the D-II ranks, missed a couple shots in the final minute with chances to tie.. Markovich and teammate Klay Stall made two free throws each in the final 42 seconds to close it out. Basha outscored Tempe, 25-15, in the fourth quarter.
“We've got a lot of young guys who are working very hard,” Grothaus said. “We're been in a lot of close games. They're a lot of fun to work with even though they don't always to the right thing. That's part of the learning. They are starting to learn if you're tough enough you can compete. We got a great effort today.”
Markovich, a 6-foot-1 senior guard, carried a large load offensively in this one. He finished with a season-high 28 points — about three times his average. Markovich was joined in the starting lineup by three sophomores (6-8 center Stall, 6-8 forward Devin Kirby and guard Nick Brewer) Two of the first players off the bench are juniors — Ahern one of them. Stall scored six of his 14 points in the final period and Kirby delivered his six points in the first half.
It was a bittersweet win for Grothaus, who got the best of one of his high school coaches when he played at Gilbert at the beginning of the decade. Tempe High coach Tom Saltzstein coached Grothaus as a youngster coming through Tom Bennett's program at Gilbert. Bennett was in the stands watching two of his former players from the 2003 state title team — Grothaus and one of Grothaus' assistants, Tommy Hambicki, coach up the Bears.
Tempe showed glimpses of the fire and fast-break game the defines them, but had a hard time keeping it going. They couldn't put away Basha with six and eight-point leads most of the final period. Tempe had four players score in double figures — Delano Jones (19), Emanuel Gant (16), Kalun White (11) and A.D. Hart (10).
In morning first-round tournament games, Mountain Pointe topped Moon Valley, 81-49, and Brophy defeated Skyline, 86-53. Emmanuel Butler scored 23 points and Tyler Evans added 16 for Mountain Pointe. D.J. Lujan paced Moon Valley with 15. Max Kufel led Brophy with 21 points, 15 in the first half. Brock Brunkhorst and Conor Triplett chipped in 17 points each. Carlos Rivera (14), Mike Mercer (12) and Tyler Thornton (10) led Skyline.