Though they enjoyed success last year, advancing to and winning at least one game in the 5A playoffs, Arapahoe and Grandview have been building for a crescendo in the 2012-13 girls basketball season with a core group of seniors.
Neither team has disappointed. Each has been ranked No. 1 this season – Arapahoe for one week in January, Grandview returning to the top this week for the first time since the holiday break – and a member of the top five virtually since the first poll in December.
And head-to-head this season has been much like the previous ones. For the third straight year the Warriors won the second game of Centennial League play to split the series, accomplishing the feat on the road for the second time in a row with Wednesday night’s 56-47 victory.
By avenging a 65-48 homecourt loss on Jan. 25 that knocked it out of the unbeaten ranks, Arapahoe’s win set up a possible three-way tie for the Centennial title. The Wolves (20-2, 12-1) close league play Friday against Cherry Creek (11-2 league). The Warriors travel to face fifth-place Cherokee Trail.
“We’ve always battled back and forth with Grandview, even through middle school,’’ said Arapahoe’s Karlyn Johnson. “They’ve got five seniors or so and we’ve got eight that we’ve played with. We knew we could take them. We knew we didn’t play our best in the last game and we had to come out here and show them what a game should look like.’’
Arapahoe coach Jerry Knafelc agreed. “We needed to win this game,’’ he said. “The league (title) is all kind of a great accolade, a nice reward for the kids. But it’s kind of out of our hands at this point, so I was more worried about this game. I cared more about w inning this game against a great opponent and getting us prepared for the playoffs.’’
Wednesday’s game was a reversal of the first matchup in terms of the team’s intensity. And that, the coaches said, was the main difference.
“It’s very simple,’’ said Grandview coach Josh Ulitzky, whose team had won 10 straight since a six-point loss to Regis Jesuit. “I think we came out (in the first game) with the intensity that they had here.’’
Knafelc credited that to his team’s ability to take advantage of its depth and athleticism and create faster tempo that was lacking for the Warriors on Jan. 25. It helped offset the inside play of Grandview’s 6-1 Adaeze Obinnah. The Rice University signee had 18 points and 9 rebounds, six of those on the offensive boards to go with five by Sedia Olsen.
“It’s an important aspect of our game because of our depth,’’ he said. “We rotated 11 people most of the game until down to the end when we were a little more selective. They played mostly seven, using their eighth to give people a break.’’
Grandview won the first game due in large part to a 32-8 advantage in free throw attempts and 21 points from Natasha Edge. This time, the Warriors, protecting a lead for most of the final three quarters, limited the Wolves to 12 foul shots while getting 25 of their own (21 in the fourth quarter) and converting 17. Edge had just four points after three quarters and finished with nine. “I think she was a little under the weather and the pace of the game just got to her a little bit,’’ Knafelc said.
Having the 5-11 Johnson available to battle Grandview’s inside players for the entire game made a difference, too. Johnson picked up three quick fouls and was a spectator for most of the first game, finishing with two points. She had 12 points and 6 rebounds Wednesday.
“Even on the bench I’m still part of the team,’’ Johnson said. “But it makes me feel better to stay in the game and feel like I’m contributing. I like to bring the energy, and I think we did a really good job of that tonight.’’
“She’s such a good defender and makes those hustle plays for us,’’ Knafelc said of Johnson. “We really missed her in that first game.’’
While Grandview enjoyed a 34-27 edge on the boards (17-10 in offensive rebounds), Arapahoe’s defense held the Wolves to 33 percent shooting. And the Warriors did shy away from Grandview’s physically stronger inside players.
“The first game, we were a little bit afraid to penetrate inside,’’ said Stacie Lukasiewicz, who led the Warriors with 14 points on 6-of-13 shooting after a rocky start. “I mean, (Obinnah) is such an awesome player, a really, really great girl. We got that out of our system and went strong to the basket, and that will create more free throws. Our bigs did a really, really nice job.’’
Arapahoe pulled ahead in the second quarter by going to the basket, hitting three 3-pointers and scoring four second-chance points for a 25-22 halftime lead. The Warriors’ pushed the pace in the third quarter as Grandview missed seven of its first nine shots, most of the defensive rebounds resulting in fastbreak layups. Arapahoe built its biggest lead, 34-26, and took a 3833- advantage into the fourth quarter.
Grandview regained the lead briefly, 42-41, following consecutive 3-pointers by Brooke Genovese and Natalie Halbleib. But Arapahoe weathered the storm and ran off eight unanswered points to go up 49-42 with 2 minutes left.
“Our confidence has gone up since the last time we played them, and we just kind of had a different mentality walking on to the floor,’’ Lukasiewicz said. “We were more one unit that walked onto the floor tonight.’’