Postseason basketball has a lot to do with opportunities.
Flagstaff Eagles head coach Tyrone Johnson gets the chance to take on a program he has not seen during his long tenure when seventh-ranked Flagstaff hosts No. 10 Rio Rico in the opening round of the 4A Conference girls basketball state tournament Wednesday.
Although Johnson doesn't have much experience with the Hawks team that's based just north of Nogales near the border, it's not hard to tell how Rio Rico went 15-3 in the regular season, blew out Deer Valley in the play-in round 62-45 and pushed its win streak to six games.
Hawks guard Luisayde Chavez has been lighting teams up in her junior year, averaging nearly 17 points per game while doing damage at the foul line and from 3-point range. She leads her team by a long shot with 86 free throws made on clip of about 72 percent.
But Chavez's teammate, sophomore shooting standout April Martinez, is really spreading the floor with her attack at the perimeter, where she's drained 95 treys so far this season at 46 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Johnson said Rio Rico plays a game that is a lot like his team's, noting that the Hawks try to press, trap and jump on balls for easy buckets off turnovers.
So Johnson is happy to have Rio Rico making the trip to Flagstaff.
"Anytime someone comes up to our place, we want to be able to apply pressure as well," he said. "We want to make it a game of pace, and hopefully by the third and fourth quarter they are wearing out and we are going strong.”
Going strong is what Flagstaff's upperclassmen and playoff-seasoned players are preaching during practice. The Eagles (16-3) will take a roster into the playoffs that is half full of players who were on the team a year ago when it reached the semifinals of the state tourney.
Emma Doskicz, who is averaging 11 points per outing and leads the team with 62 total 3's made, Sheridan Edgewater and Josephine Faull are a few returners looking to help the Eagles get back to the Final Four for a third straight year.
Flagstaff's No. 1 scorer, however, hasn't seen what varsity postseason basketball looks like yet. Freshman star Gracelyn Nez has paced the Eagles this season on offense with 12.4 points per game to go with a team-high 8.4 rebounds per night. So far this season, Nez has made her way to the charity stripe 65 times and hit 42 of them for a clip of 65 percent.
Nez does, however, have an idea of how to handle playoff situations, as she helped the Eagles volleyball team to two playoff victories in the fall.
"She’s been there and understands the moment," Johnson said.
Rio Rico is no stranger to the postseason, coming off a year that ended with a quarterfinal loss.
Despite having a mix of solid shooters like Edgewater, 3 and D players like Hailey Armus and the inside threat of Faull, the Eagles have had moments of being a streaky team, both during the stretch of the entire season and in single games.
Edgewater hasn't been able to put together three straight games scoring in double digits, and Doskicz has gone through her share of slumps as well. Just when it appeared Flagstaff was finally finding a flow, trouncing Lee Williams and Mingus Union while scoring more than 60 in each victory, the team managed to put up just 39 points against rival Coconino in the regular-season finale.
When considering tourney games played outside of the regular season, Rio Rico is averaging about 60 points per game, and the Hawks like to jump out fast on teams, scoring 19.0 points in the first quarter. Flagstaff averages about 56 points per outing and does its best work in the middle quarters. Flagstaff likes to rest its starters in the fourth once it has a comfortable advantage over opponents, hence the lower final-quarter averages.
"If we can put up a good effort for all four quarters, I think we can come away with the win," Johnson said.
Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. in Flagstaff's War Memorial Gymnasium.