DENVER | Given how much the Grandview girls basketball team lost after winning last season’s large school state championship, the odds that they would be playing in the final weekend of the season at the Denver Coliseum seemed long, at least from the outside.
The Wolves graduated McDonald’s All-American Lauren Betts and several key other key components from last season’s state championship winner and just two players who were on the floor in the title game (senior Isa Dillehay and sophomore Sienna Betts) returned.
But coach Josh Ulitzky’s new-look team didn’t listen to the doubts and used them as fuel — along with the rock-solid play of the 6-foot-3 Betts — who poured in 23 points and dominated the paint in a 57-53 victory over No. 3 Highlands Ranch — which is why a No. 11 seed is part of the Class 6A Final Four.
“Honestly, I would say it is unbelievable because no one had faith in us since the beginning of the year,” Dillehay said. “We were ranked 11th and look what we can do. Everyone doubted us, but we believed in ourselves and this was truly a team win.”
Senior Benedicte Kalala added nine points, while Dillehay, sophomore Deija Roberson and freshman Lexi Yi contributed six points apiece for Grandview, which overcame some nerves in the opening quarter from the veterans and newcomers alike, played well defensively and weathered a 3-point-fueled surge from the Falcons (who had a 14-game winning streak snapped) late to uphold the program’s tradition of elite play in the postseason.
The Wolves extended a string of Final Four appearances to seven consecutive seasons.
“No one thought we were going to here; this is our ‘Hallelujah’ goal,” Betts said. “The first week of practice, we talked about what were our goals and we said ‘Hallelujah, Final Four.’ We just did that and it shows how much we’ve improved.”
A familiar foe awaits Grandview with a trip to the state championship game on the line as it will take on Centennial League rival and second-seeded Cherry Creek — which it went 1-1 against in the regular season — at 11 a.m. March 10.
A third league team appears on the other side of the bracket as No. 8 Arapahoe upset No. 1 Valor Christian and will oppose No. 4 Monarch, which topped out Aurora’s other Great 8 team in No. 12 Regis Jesuit, in the other semifinal at 2:15 p.m.
Grandview and Highlands Ranch (22-4) met in non-league play on Jan. 7 and the Falcons prevailed 54-26 in a game in which the Wolves didn’t have Betts, 6A’s leading rebounder and shot blocker and a 21-plus points per game scorer.
The difference was immediately clear as a confident, composed Betts scored 11 points in the opening half and helped keep Grandview in range as it faced just a two-point deficit at halftime. In the first meeting, the Wolves didn’t score in the first quarter and were down 36-9 at the break against the Falcons.
“The first quarter was a little rough and I figured it was going to be because so many of them are in a new environment here or at least haven’t been in the roles they are in now,” Ulitzky said. “I was expecting it early, but they really calmed down. Our staff said in the second quarter we only had one turnover and I don’t know what the numbers were, but they seemed to be much more composed as the game went along.”
A three-point play by Betts in the first minute of the third quarter put Grandview in the lead for the first time at 28-27 and the lead see-sawed back and forth until the Wolves put together a 9-2 run to end the quarter.
Dillehay broke a 34-all tie with a steal and layup, Roberson scored in an inside basket and sophomore Maya Smith scored on a nifty pass from Betts and the Wolves had a five-point advantage after three quarters.
Yi hadn’t score in the first three quarters, but drained a 3-pointer in the first minute of the fourth quarter to give Grandview an eight-point margin. Highlands Ranch wouldn’t go away, however, as it made four 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the quarter to get back as close as one point at 50-49 on a triple from Tori Baker (17 points).
Betts restored a three-point edge with an inside basket and the Wolves never let it get any closer with good work on the boards and avoiding costly mistakes. Yi got fouled on a rebound and made two free throws that made it 54-49 with 3:03 left that gave Grandview what it needed to win.
Betts missed four free throws in the final 40 seconds, but rebounded her last miss and dribbled out the final seconds with a smile on her face.
“I just knew it was over and we were moving on,” she said. “I’m so proud of these girls and no one has had to work for it as much as they have. Every single person has worked for this.”
Added McClain: “It was long wait for the week, but we believed and I know that our mentality is what brought us to where we are.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at email@example.com. Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2023 CLASS 6A GIRLS BASKETBALL GREAT 8
March 4 at Denver Coliseum
(11) GRANDVIEW 57, (3) HIGHLANDS RANCH 53
Score by quarters:
Grandview 10 15 16 16 — 57
High. Ranch 15 12 9 17 — 53
Benedicte Kalala 4 1-2 9, Lexi Yi 1 3-4 6, Sydnie McClain 1 0-1 3, Isa Dillehay 3 0-0 6, Sienna Betts 10 3-9 23, Maya Smith 2 0-0 4, Deija Roberson 2 2-3 6. Totals 23 9-19 57.
HIGHLANDS RANCH (53)
Tori Baker 6 3-4 17, Maddie Groth 6 1-2 14, Isabella Shumpert 3 0-0 9, Bailey Williamson 1 0-0 3, Ezra Simonich 2 0-2 6, Kniyah Dumas 1 2-2 4, Jordyn Washington 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 6-10 53.
3-point field goals — Grandview (2): Sydnie McClain, Lexi Yi. Highlands Ranch (9): Isabella Shumpert 3, Tori Baker 2, Ezra Simonich 2, Maddie Groth, Bailey Williamson. Total fouls — Grandview 13, Highlands Ranch 20. Fouled out — Highlands Ranch: Simonich. Technical fouls — None.