Canyon Springs’ boys basketball team has been a balanced scoring team all season, with four players averaging in double figures and another right behind them.
But with the Pioneers clinging to a three-point lead in the fourth quarter on Friday, it was time for Michael Thompson to shine.
Thompson, who has signed with Boise State, scored nine of his 22 points in the final 5:10 to help Canyon Springs defeat Eldorado 78-66 for the Sunrise Region title at Foothill.
“My coaches pressured me,” Thompson said. “They were like, this is my game and show them what (Division I) prospects play like and show them that you’re going to Boise State.”
The Pioneers (27-2) advance to the Class 4A state tournament, which begins Thursday at the Orleans Arena. Eldorado (23-7) plays Sunset Region runner-up Sierra Vista (24-6) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Del Sol, with the winner earning the final berth at state.
Canyon Springs led 61-58 when Thompson started attacking the basket with reckless abandon.
Twice he flashed into the lane against Eldorado’s 2-3 zone, the second time completing a three-point play that put the Pioneers up 66-60 with 4:38 to play.
He then rebounded the ball at one end of the floor and converted a powerful dunk at the other end to push Canyon Springs’ lead to 72-62 with 2:06 to go.
“When Mike went down the middle and made that dunk, that was big in the fourth quarter,” Canyon Springs coach Daryl Branham said.
Thompson wasn’t the only Canyon Springs player going to the rim. After settling for numerous outside shots against Foothill’s zone defense on Thursday before escaping with a 69-68 semifinal win, the Pioneers made getting to the basket a focus on Friday.
A team that was 0-for-12 on 3-pointers in the first half against Foothill didn’t attempt a 3-pointer in Friday’s first half.
“We talked the whole time about attacking the basket,” Branham said. “After (Thursday), hopefully they learned their lesson about settling and not attacking zones, and it seemed to work tonight.”
Canyon Springs led 33-31 at the half, and Branham loosened the shooting restraints in the second half. The Pioneers responded, nailing 3 of 6 3-pointers in the third quarter as they took control.
Marquon Webster hit a 3-pointer to help key an 11-1 run to open the third quarter. Thompson knocked down a 3 with 3:45 left in the period that gave Canyon Springs its biggest lead at 50-36.
“Knocking down some big 3s in the second half, that just kind of gets everybody going,” Branham said.
Chris Willis had done the blue-collar work around the basket to keep Canyon Springs in the game in the first half, notching 10 points on stick-backs.
“Chris is a big influence on us,” Thompson said. “When he starts going, we all start going. When he plays hard, we all play hard.”
The 6-foot-4-inch Willis finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
“Chris, for his size, is by far the best rebounder, pound for pound, in the city,” Branham said. “He gives up a lot of height to these guys, but he continuously works. He has a great nose for the ball, and his work ethic is unbelievable.”
Donald Anderson added 12 points and Jared Brandon 11 for Canyon Springs.
Curtis Stewart and Thomas Hooper each scored 14 points to lead Eldorado.