Story and photo by Vincent R. Crawford, Sports Editor
Top-ranked Phoenix Shadow Mountain Matadors (27-5) and the second-seeded Avondale Agua Fria Owls (28-3) met Feb. 29 to determine the 2016 Division II boys basketball state champions. Three hours before the game, one of the Matadors’ coaches made a bold prediction to this reporter. Coach Jeff Rhymes Sr., who is the father of Shadow Mountain’s senior shooting guard Jeffrey (JJ) Rhymes Jr., said the Matadors would win by 30 points. In a matchup of fast paced teams offensively and defensively, Rhymes was nearly correct as the Matadors won by 31 points, 86-55, and stopped the Owls 23-game winning streak. This is South Mountain’s fourth basketball state championship and second in three years.
“He was right,” said JJ Rhymes. “We came out, they wanted to press, and we put our foot down their throat.”
“Since the beginning of summer, me and Michael Bibby (who missed most of last year for knee surgeries for meniscus tears) said, ‘We need a ring.’ We said that we need to finish this for each other and for the rest of the team.”
Shadow Mountain scored the game’s first seven points and the rout was on as the Matadors outscored Agua Fria in each period 19-11, 22-18, 21-13, and 24-13. The Matadors were led in scoring by senior point guard Bibby with game-highs in points (22), rebounds (10), assists (6) and steals (5).
“Going out on top in my last high school basketball game of my career means nothing better,” said Bibby. His father, Mike, who was on Shadow Mountain’s 1996 state championship team, coached him. “Going out on a win like that especially in a championship game blowout means a lot to me.”
Against Peoria Sunrise Mountain, the Owl’s defensive pressure resulted in 14 steals as they won the semifinal contest 71-68 to earn a matchup against Shadow Mountain. Owls’ first-year coach Randy Lavender looked forward to competing against the Matadors’ press and thought it would come down to “who wanted it more.”
“We gave them what they wanted,” said JJ Rhymes, who scored 18 points and grabbed eight caroms.
The Owls’ Mr. Inside, Darnell Cowart, and Mr. Outside, Jordan McCants, combined to score 39 points against Sunrise Mountain, but both of them scored only three points each against the Matadors. Agua Fria was led in scoring by Isaiah Johns (14), Isaiah Olvera (13) and Justice Cook (10). Jalen House (14) and Darion Spotsville (10) were the other double-digit Matadors scorers.
On his ’96 championship, Mike Bibby said, “It was so long ago, I don’t remember what it felt like as a player.” He added, “I’ll remember that (Michael’s win) forever. It’s his last high school game, and he can go out and play in college and I can watch and be a parent and I don’t have to coach.”