The Flagstaff girls played against a variety of styles of basketball over the course of the season, hoping to be prepared for any potential postseason matchup.
Yet, on Friday at Grand Canyon University Arena in Phoenix, they will face a team that plays the game much like they do.
"They like to get out and push the ball, score early, and we like to do some of the same. They have guards that are leading them in scoring, but have several players on the roster who can score the ball. So if there is a mirror image out there, we are kind of looking at it," said Eagles head coach Tyrone Johnson, whose team is making its second consecutive 4A Conference state tournament semifinal appearance.
Like No. 3-seeded Flagstaff, the second-ranked Pueblo Magnet Warriors like to press, run the court, control the boards and strike from long range. Double-digit threats in scoring on a nightly basis who are each averaging 5.1 steals per game, Summer Fox and Ilyssa Galindo lead the Warriors, who like the Eagles won their region without suffering a loss along the way.
Fox has the fourth-most field goals made in the conference at 167, while Galindo sits at No. 8 on the leaderboard with 142. Between the two of them in the category is Flagstaff's Monique Ware, who is sixth with 159.
Both teams have had success come from their approach to the game. Flagstaff went 18-1 in the regular season, and Pueblo ended at 18-0.
Last season in the state tourney quarterfinals against Pueblo, Ware scored 12 points and had two of the Eagles' 12 total 3-pointers, helping the Eagles get the 84-65 victory at home. While the high-volume shooting Warriors connected on 6 of 14 shots from the perimeter in the game, Eagles guard Emma Doskicz had recorded five of her own as a freshman.
Flagstaff has hit 196 of its 688 3-pointers on the way to the postseason, with Doskicz, Ware and Hailey Armus leading the way. On the other hand, Pueblo has connected on 182 of 629 from beyond the arc so far. The biggest threats for their respective teams from beyond the arc, Galindo, a senior guard, enters Saturday with 58 3-pointers made and Doskicz goes in with 50.
A mix of a hot shooter at the perimeter and a fast pace could put a team in a hole it can't crawl out of.
“We have to have one of our better performances of the year, and be energized throughout, and everything for them needs to be difficult. We can’t have lapses that allow them to go on any eight-, nine-, 10-0 runs -- that just won’t cut it. They have to be working for everything, so defense is going to be key," Johnson said.
Neither team, however, relies solely on its abilities to force the issue with a game outside the paint. Pueblo averages around 37 rebounds per game, and Flagstaff is at about 34 per game. Pueblo's strongest presence in the paint has been sophomore Jasmine Belt, a center who has the seventh-most double-doubles in the conference this season at six along with two other players.
Three Warriors average four or more rebounds per game, led by Belt's 7.7 clip, while Flagstaff has four in Ware, Josephine Faull, Mikaila Kayaani-Lee and Reece Honanie.
"If we can't contain their guard play and keep them off the boards, it's going to be a tough night," Johnson said.
As the similar styles of play clash, taking care of the ball becomes a point of emphasis. For the Eagles, surviving runs and making sure the Warriors can't get into a flow will be a few ingredients for a recipe for success. Both teams might be busy trying to extinguish the opponent's hot hand, as Pueblo has seven players averaging five or more points per game to Flagstaff's six.
Ware, a key guard on Flagstaff's roster, has been struggling with late-season injuries, but is expected to play. With two players unable to make the semifinals, the slightly short-handed Eagles will need their depth to step up in order to help the team get into the finals, where they could meet the very next day either No. 4 Shadow Mountain or No. 1 Seton Catholic Prep, the reigning champs.
With all the similarities between Flagstaff and Pueblo, nothing out of the ordinary might decide the game, so each team will look to play as solid as possible in all four quarters.
"I don't think there is anything we can do to surprise them, and hopefully the same, nothing that they will do will surprise us, and we'll just be able to play our game and force them to play their game for a full 32 minutes," Johnson said.
Friday's game is set for a 2:15 p.m. tipoff.