Spring Valley’s girls basketball team won the Gator Winter Classic last year in part because of Essence Booker and Kayla Harris, former Grizzlies standouts now excelling in college.
No excuses, though, for coach Billy Hemberger.
Spring Valley (7-5) embarked on an 11-2 run midway through the second quarter Thursday and made a series of defensive stops and free throws in the final minutes to secure a 44-40 victory over West Anchorage (Alaska) at Green Valley and a berth in the tournament’s Diamond division.
Bracket play begins Friday, and the defending champions have their sights set on another title.
“We love this tournament. I feel like it’s the best tournament in the city, as far as the way its run, just the variation of teams,” Hemberger said. “It’s a phenomenal tournament, and we always look forward to coming. It’s at the right time, the second part to the season.”
The Grizzlies dropped three of their first five games as they worked to mitigate the departures of Booker (UNR) and Harris (Cochise College), and injuries to sophomore Garrisen Freeman and freshman Aaliyah Gayles.
But Spring Valley has its full complement of players for the Gator Winter Classic and finished 3-0 in pool play by fending off the Eagles, who rolled Thursday to an 18-10 lead behind senior Azaria Robinson.
The 6-foot-2-inch forward patrolled the paint on both ends of the floor, prompting Hemberger to utilize a five-guard lineup that pulled Robinson away from the basket. The Grizzlies found a rhythm and staved off a fourth-quarter rally despite 29 turnovers.
“The beginning of the season isn’t what we expected,” said Grizzlies guard Chelsea Camara, who had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds. “But we stick together through adversity, and that’s why things are finally changing.”
Freeman added 14 points for Spring Valley. Robinson scored a game-high 26.
“We’ve done a good job of weathering the storm against the competition we’ve played,” Hemberger said. “Our best basketball is ahead of us.”
Sierra Vista 49, Pahrump Valley 47 — Shania Johnson-Harper had all 14 of her points in the second half to help the Mountain Lions fend off the Trojans.
Francheska Malanum added 10 points for Sierra Vista.
Kathryn Daffer led Pahrump Valley with 15 points.
Sunrise Mountain 48, Valley 30 — Cheryl Edenfield had 15 points on five 3-pointers for the Miners in their win over the Vikings.
Markaila McCurdy had 12 points for Sunrise Mountain.
Layla Jackson led Valley with 18 points.
Basic 68, Needles 41 — Jasmine Richardson had a game-high 27 points to help the Wolves knock off the Mustangs.
Lauren Powell had 15 points for Basic, and teammate Sierra McLean scored 13.
Marie Mills had a team-high 15 points for Needles.
Rancho 38, Virgin Valley 27 — Saipress Jones scored a game-high 21 points to lead the Rams past the Bulldogs.
Taylor DeGourville added eight points for Rancho.
Alexis Boatright had 14 points for Virgin Valley.
Chugiak (Alaska) 57, Moapa Valley 39 — Chasity Seldon scored 20 points to help the Mustangs topple the Pirates.
Eva Palmer added 16 points for Chugiak, and teammate Caitlin Wachmann scored 10.
Kaitlyn Anderson had a team-high 18 points for Moapa Valley.
Fernley 41, Valley 16 — Jaiden Sullivan scored nine points to lead the Vaqueros past the Vikings.
Ten other players scored for Fernley, which led 30-8 at halftime.
Jackson scored nine for Valley.
Santa Margarita (Calif.) 50, Sierra Vista 40 — Helana Friend scored 16 points to help the Eagles knock off the Mountain Lions despite not making a basket in the fourth quarter.
Brooke Slymen had nine points for Santa Margarita.
Harper-Johnson led Sierra Vista with 17 points.
Dimond (Alaska) 60, Boulder City 31 — Alissa Pili scored 25 points to lead the Lynx to a decisive victory over the Eagles.
Ariyanna Carracho-Villafuerte had 12 points for Dimond.
Hannah Estes and Keely Alexander scored nine points apiece to lead Boulder City.
Boulder City 34, Silverado 31 — At Silverado, Alexander had 14 points as the Eagles edged the Skyhawks.
Setia Cox added nine points for Boulder City, which led 15-6 after one quarter.
Jessica Guzman had nine points to lead Silverado. The Skyhawks made 10 baskets, nine of which were 3-pointers.
Spanish Springs 44, Durango 15 — Mariah Barraza scored a game-high 13 points for Cougars, and Jade Townsell added 12 points in their win over the Trailblazers.
Laila Loring led Durango with 10 points.
McFarland (Calif.) 58, Las Vegas 25 — Neli Diaz had a game-high 30 points to lead the Cougars past the Wildcats.
Las Vegas played the majority of the game with four players after a bench-clearing skirmish led to several ejections.
Cortney Stark led the Wildcats with 10 points.
Antioch (Calif.) 51, Las Vegas 46 — Shadae Williams scored a game-high 21 points to help the Panthers subdue the Wildcats.
Xeda Regala had 16 points to lead Las Vegas.
Tanque Verde (Ariz.) 53, Arbor View 51 — Christian Cullinan scored 11 points, and Emma Wall had 10 points for the Hawks in their overtime win over the Aggies.
Amiya Lattomus had 22 points for Arbor View.
Dimond (Alaska) 34, Foothill 25 — Pili scored 19 points to lead the Lynx past the Falcons.
Jailyn Johnson had eight points for Foothill.
Yale (Canada) 55, Pahrump Valley 42 — Samantha Runnion scored 10 points for the Trojans in their loss to Yale.