Queen Creek Hoops it up at Arena: Three Things We Learned

2 years ago Andrew Luberda 0

The playoff hopes of the 21st-ranked Queen Creek boys’ basketball team took a hit following a 52 – 51 buzzer-beating defeat against then No. 31 Ironwood on Jan. 13. The game was part of the Hoopin’ It Up at the Arena series, which is played at Talking Stick Arena, home of the Phoenix Suns.

The top 24 teams in 5A will earn a spot in the state tournament that begins in February. The Eagles are currently ranked No. 22. The Bulldogs are essentially in playoff mode for the final three games of the regular season.

Mark Garica (5) looks to make a pass during last Saturday’s game at Talking Stick Arena.

“That was a huge game for us,” Queen Creek head coach Troy Gibson told CountyLinePreps.com after the game. “We were on the bubble to begin with and anytime you lose to a team below us it’s a killer. We are going to have to find a way to beat those teams left on our schedule that are ahead of us.”

Those teams are:  No. 23 Chaparral, No. 39 Vista Grande and No. 6 Williams Field.

Queen Creek had to dig out of a double-digit deficit in the first quarter, pulling within four points at halftime, 24 – 20. The Bulldogs completed the comeback and even took the lead in the final two quarters, including a 47 – 45 lead with inside a minute left in the game.

The Eagles called a timeout in the final seconds, trailing by one and set up an inbound play that caught Queen Creek off guard – a lob to 6-foot-10 Dhol Majak, who looked to have pushed off a Bulldogs’ defender before the catch and putback at the buzzer.

Senior Tyler Fulton at the free throw line.

“We were going to foul because we had fouls to give,” Gibson said about the final play. “We thought they were going to run something for (Dominic Gonzalez). They threw the lob and it looked like the kid shoved our player in the back to catch it, but it wasn’t called, so it wasn’t a foul.”

Queen Creek Leaderboard

Points:  Mark Garcia – 21, Tyler Fulton – 11, Jacob Botello – 10.

Assists:  Jake Reed – 7, Dalton Smith – 5

Rebounds:  Smith – 13, Reed, Garcia and Tyler Fulton – 4



Three things we learned:

Once in lifetime – The opportunity for high school players – male and female – to play on an NBA court is a unique one, especially considering most of them won’t play the sport beyond high school. The Hoopin’ it up at the Arena series is in its eighth-year and originated with two teams – Greenway and Washington. After that first game, Greenway Athletic Director Jeff Feldman and Phoenix Suns executive David Segal developed a plan to allow more teams to participate. The event has hosted as many as 54 teams, and this year 42 teams competed over three Saturdays during the season, seven games per date. “It’s an opportunity for kids to do something they never get to do anywhere else,” Feldman told CountyLinePreps.com between games.

Jacob Botello.

Despite the loss, Gibson was happy to witness his players create a lifetime memory. “(It was) a really cool experience for the kids,” he said.  (This is) our first time doing it and wanted to do something fun, memorable for this group. I think they will definitely remember the game, it just didn’t start or end the way we would have liked it to.”

Feldman said he sends an email to all coaches – male and female – in March, inviting their teams to participate in Hoopin’ it up at the Arena. Additionally, coaches can email Jeff for further information:  jeff.feldman@guhsdaz.org.

Botello is back – Senior starting guard Jacob Botello is back in the lineup after missing 10 games due to injury. The two-year varsity starter is needed in the Bulldogs lineup, as evidenced by the Bulldogs’ 4 – 6 record during his absence. Despite missing 10 games, Botello ranks as the team’s third-leading scorer and top assist man. “Jacob is a guy who, offensively, can get to the rim and break a guy down off the dribble,” Gibson said. “Defensively, he plays passing lanes really well and is able to get steals that often leads to baskets. He just makes plays for us.”

Win and they’re in – As previously stated, the Bulldogs playoff hopes are flickering. Currently ranked No. 21, with two of their final three games against the No. 23 and No. 6 teams, in addition to Vista Grande (6 – 16), the Bulldogs likely need to win two games to solidify a playoff berth. Although a pair of losses wouldn’t necessarily eliminate Queen Creek, it could greatly dim the flicker.