Thoughts on Desert Mountain-Mesa boys basketball
The No. 1 vs. No. 2 battle at Mesa High lived up to its billing last night, as second-ranked Desert Mountain held on for the 49-47 victory over the top-ranked Jackrabbits in a Division I boys basketball contest. It was another reminder of how much parity there is in Division I this season.
While Mesa had a chance to force overtime as the final seconds ticked down, the Wolves led most of the game and were the better team on this night. A few random thoughts:
* Desert Mountain point guard Rolando Rhymes was a magician with the ball, continually navigating his way through the lane and scoring despite the presence of much bigger defenders. The junior standout makes Desert Mountain go because nobody else on the team can penetrate defenses like he can. I thought Jalen Jenkins or Christian Harris would get the defensive assignment on Rhymes, but Mesa primarily used the taller and lengthier Felipe Velazco. It worked at times, but Rhymes was too quick and consistently knifed his way into the lane for easy buckets.
* There was a long stretch in the second quarter in which Mesa imposed its will defensively in the half-court, and it was a reminder of how good the Jackrabbits can be at that end of the floor. The team’s overall athleticism on the wings, and Allen’s presence inside, makes it tough on opponents to score . Diego Magana, Will Goff and the team’s other threats were mostly neutralized, but Rhymes was really good and Mesa only scored 47 points on the other end, so the effort was wasted.
* Mesa turned the ball over 18 times and again struggled to find good shots in the half court. The team’s best option was Allen down low in the post, and while he had a nice game, he’s still raw offensively and turned the ball over six times. I liked the game plan by Desert Mountain coach Todd Fazio, in which he blanketed D.J. Henderson and Harris and forced Allen and Jenkins to beat him.
* Desert Mountain forward Mark Andrews is the glue guy that doesn’t get a bunch of recognition (on the hardwood at least) but is an integral piece. He is relied on for the bulk of the rebounding, and the two times I’ve seen Desert Mountain, he has been asked to guard Payton Dastrup and then Allen straight up. Andrews has a very strong lower body, so while he gives up some height, he was able to push those players off the block by a few feet, making for tougher shots. It’s a small detail but an important one.
* Mesa had very few fast-break opportunities, as Desert Mountain regularly sent three players back after shots, forcing the Jackrabbits into half-court sets. It’s a blueprint many teams will follow, as Mesa is much better at scoring in transition. Jenkins has a wealth of talent but is still learning the game, so he regularly looked for instructions from coach Shane Burcar after rebounds. It probably would have served Mesa better to push the ball in some of those situations, because that usually opens up better looks for the team’s outside shooters.
While Desert Mountain had some solid wins coming into this game, this is certainly the team’s signature victory to this point. The Wolves might not be as physically daunting as Mesa or Cesar Chavez, but have a nice combination of pieces which should keep them in the mix heading into the state tournament. The Jackrabbits have impressive individual players, but the offense needs to become more fluid. The continued improvement of Allen is encouraging, and Mesa should get better as the season keeps moving along. Bottom line, both teams were seen as Division I contenders heading into this game, and the result did nothing to change that.