CLASS 5A GIRLS BASKETBALL FINAL FOUR PREVIEW

Admit it. This is Grandview’s Class 5A girls tournament to lose.
Why argue? The Wolves have made inside the top 10 of national polls by USA Today and MaxPreps Xcellent 25. They rank 21st in the U.S. in scoring (72.1 points). They are 3-0 in this season’s playoffs, winning by 57, 38 and 42 points. And they have one of the best players in the country in senior Michaela Onyenwere.
Look back at some of the dominant big-school teams since sanctioning in the 1975-76 season. Coach Bobbi Brown’s Boulder Panthers. Erin Scholz and Doherty. Lisa Hosac and Heritage. Katie Cronin and Horizon. Coach Caryn Jarocki’s Highlands Ranch Falcons. The Waner sisters and ThunderRidge. Diani Akigbogun and Regis Jesuit.
So it’s up to one of the other three, Cherry Creek, Lakewood and Regis Jesuit, to try and take down the Wolves.
The final four begins Thursday at the Denver Coliseum, the championship on Saturday.
Below are capsule looks at Thursday’s action:

(12) Cherry Creek vs. (9) Lakewood, 8:30 p.m.

Neither program has won a girls basketball state championship. … Cherry Creek (19-7) has played in two finals — it lost to Jefferson County’s Chatfield and Ali Spence in 1999 by 58-44, and Highlands Ranch’s ThunderRidge and Abby Waner in 2004 by 60-57. … Bruins finished runners-up to Grandview in the Centennial, two games back. … They also got spanked by Ralston Valley on Dec. 8 by 56-42. RV won the Jeffco League, Lakewood was two games back. However, the Bruins returned the favor in the Sweet 16, winning over Ralston Valley by nearly the same score, 56-39. … Freshman Jana Van Gytenbeek continues to led Cherry Creek in scoring at 15.1 points. Next is senior Delaney Bernard, 10.6 points. … Lakewood (21-5) has won 10 games in a row and hasn’t taken a hit since Jan. 27, when it fell to Ralston Valley by four. … The Tigers are fresh from taking down the top seed, Highlands Ranch, which also was runner-up a year ago. Now 21-5, Lakewood has won 10 games in a row. The Tigers advanced in rounds two and three by handling Denver Prep teams, FNE Warriors and Denver East, respectively. … They started the season 5-4, including 0-1 in Jeffco play, and lost to Highlands Ranch 35-31 on Dec. 3 in the La Jolla Country Day Tournament in California. … Six-foot-4 junior Camilla Emsbo leads the Tigers in scoring (18.9 points), rebounding (8.7) and blocks (2.8). … Lakewood is seeking its first finals appearance.

(11) Regis Jesuit vs. (2) Grandview, 7 p.m.

This is the 10th time in its 13 seasons that coach Carl Mattei’s Raiders have advanced to a final four. … At 20-6 and on a nine-game winning binge, the Raiders in southeastern Aurora have had their usual season to date — heading to multiple out-of-state tournaments, loading up against in-state competition in non-league and making a run at the Continental League championship. … They got pounded by visiting Grandview 58-30 on Dec. 9, but who hasn’t? … Fran Belibi, a talented sophomore who’s new to the game, continues to emerge and not just because she became the first in-state girl to dunk in a game. The 6-1 sophomore has been working on her ball-handling, shooting and foot work, and it shows — she leads the team in points (16.2), rebounds (12.0), steals (2.6), blocks (3.2) and turnovers (3.8). … Maybe the best thing about this team, Mattei agrees, is the Raiders only have one senior. It’s learning and is game. … Grandview, 25-1, has won 14 straight games and remains 5A’s resident truth. The Wolves have only lost to Miami Country Day (in overtime) and have had their way like a high-school senior with the contents of his mother’s refrigerator. … You know the story by now — they returned a highly talented team headed by the superlative Onyenwere, were going to be able to pay both inside and outside and implement sticky defense, then had the very effective Leilah Vigil transfer from Highlands Ranch. The rich got richer. … Onyenwere, headed to UCLA, isn’t only the state’s best player, but she’s also the fastest … with or without the ball.

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