Cibola teams ready to hit the road for State
The Cibola girls basketball team opens up the state tournament by traveling to the eastern border of Arizona to face a team they've never seen play.
For the Raider boys, the first round will be against a team they've played three times this season.
The girls will travel to Sierra Vista to take on No. 15 Buena (13-6) at 7 p.m. today in the opening round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association State Tournament. On Thursday, the boys travel up north to take on familiar foe No. 13 Lake Havasu at 7 p.m.
It will be the first game since Feb. 7 for the girls, who lost 55-24 to Westview in the opening round of the Section I tournament.
“After Westview we needed to work on our offensive and defensive rebounding and work on ball security under pressure,” Cibola girls coach Justin Hager said. “We practiced against the JV boys to get used to the pressure and aggressiveness.”
The Raiders' (16-3) opponent seem to be a bit of a mystery. On their AIA power point schedule, only five scores are reported. The Colts were at the same tournament as the Raiders last season — the Arcadia Tournament during Christmas — but the two schools didn't play. Despite being on the other side of the state, Hager got his hands on a scouting report.
“They're athletic and long. They don't shoot the ball very well but they're really aggressive and run the floor and attack the basket,” Hager said.
The Raiders plan to leave in the morning to leave enough time to go through a walk-through despite the more than five-hour bus ride.
“That's the reward of making the state tournament. But good teams need to win on the road, there's no excuses,” Hager said.
A win will mark the first time in recent memory that the Raiders would have won a state playoff game. With a roster full of seniors, this seems to be Cibola's year to break that streak.
“We have experience and I have confidence in the kids. This is what you practice for, we want to advance,” Hager said.
On the boys' side, the Raiders (14-5) face a Lake Havasu team they've squared off on three occasions this year — with only two counting as power point games.
The teams split the regular season games. Lake Havasu (17-2) won the first meeting 63-60 up north while the Raiders won 78-57 on Jan. 17 in Yuma. Cibola beat the Knights 60-56 in the Southwest Rotary Classic earlier this season.
“This is a very winnable game for the first round,” Cibola coach Tim Keller said.
In order to do so, the Raiders will need to contain the Knights' scoring machine, senior guard Brandon Neskahi, who averages over 21 points a game. However, Neskahi has help in senior post Trevor Evans (9.5 points a game) and senior point guard Marcus Fortune.
“Fortune is going to be tough up top, Neskahi is their shooter and can attack the basket and (Evans) is just scrappy. He's going to grab a lot of junk rebounds,” Keller said.
For Cibola, the offense will be somewhat scattered but junior guard Jordan Mitchell comes into the game averaging a team-high 19.5 points a game. Senior post Deante Gaines has chipped in more than 13 points a game while post Steven Loucks (9.8), and guards Brett Boyer (8.9) and Stevie Mitchell (8.8) have provided plenty of scoring help.
In the last meeting between the two — Cibola's rout of the Knights — it was the 6-foot-5 Gaines who provided the fireworks. Gaines finished with 21 points on 10-for-13 shooting and had 16 rebounds, three steals and three assists for the Raiders.
Possibly more important, the Raiders held Neskahi to 14 hard-earned points.
The Raiders last played in a 61-54 loss to section-winning North on Feb 8., which has allowed to them to rest some nagging injuries. And when the first game is against a team like Lake Havasu, there won't be many surprises.
“They know exactly what we want to do and we know exactly what they want to do. We know we can't make any mistakes,” Keller said.
When Keller told his players that instead of drawing Ironwood Ridge, like he expected, the Raiders would be facing Lake Havasu for the fourth time, they responded how many likely did.
“They're like, ‘Again?'”
Jesse Severson can be reached at email@example.com or at 539-6881. Find him at facebook.com/YSJesseSeverson