Girls Basketball: Grandview, Regis Jesuit collide for state title game berth

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AURORA | The stage is set Grandview and Regis Jesuit to decide which team gets a shot at the Class 5A girls state basketball championship.

For the past two weeks, the Wolves and Raiders have kept a cautious eye on each other as they worked their way through their respective region brackets, knowing they could meet.

Regis Jesuit's Diani Akigbogun
Regis Jesuit junior Diani Akigbogun dribbles the ball upcourt in the Raiders’ Class 5A girls Great 8 victory over Horizon. (Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

After Regis Jesuit topped Grandview 59-53 in a non-league game on Jan. 12, the two have always suspected they would meet again with larger stakes on the line. That meeting is a reality, as they will square off at 7 p.m. Thursday in a 5A semifinal contest at the Coors Events Center in Boulder. The winner moves into the 5A final, scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Saturday on the same floor.

“It’s going to be a bit of a war,” said Regis Jesuit coach Carl Mattei, who has guided his team to Boulder six times in seven seasons since it moved up to 5A and is aiming to make his fourth state title game in that span.

“We’ve got some players who have experience in the venue and understand what it is like to play there, so that gives a bit of an edge,” he added. “Then again, Grandview is fired up to play us a second time, so I’m sure they are champing at the bit.”

Also working in Regis Jesuit’s favor is the tandem of juniors Diani Akigbogun — who was named Colorado’s Gatorade Player of the Year on Thursday — and Justine Hall, two double-digit scorers who have played significant roles in the Raiders’ trips to Boulder the last two seasons, a state championship game loss in 2011 and a semifinal defeat last season.

Coach Josh Ulitzky’s team counters with overall experience, as the Wolves have a core of five seniors and two juniors who have played with each other extensively for the past three seasons. They came out of their Great 8 win over Chaparral a bit banged up, but Ulitzky expects his veteran squad to be ready for the rematch.

Grandview is also determined end Regis Jesuit’s run in the series between the teams, as the Raiders have posted three victories over the Wolves in the past four years.

Turnovers and poor shot selection kept Grandview from winning the January contest, as the Wolves couldn’t hold a second-half lead they held until under three minutes remained.

“Hopefully we’ll execute a little better than we did the first time against them,” Ulitzky said.

Top seeds Highlands Ranch and Arapahoe meet in the other semifinal at 8:30 p.m.

Reach Sports Editor Courtney Oakes at [email protected] or 303-750-7555

2013 CLASS 5A GIRLS BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS

March 14, 7 p.m., Coors Events Center

No. 1 Grandview (24-2) vs. No. 1 Regis Jesuit (24-2)

Briefly: Grandview and Regis Jesuit were Aurora’s top two teams all season long and both capped the regular season with conference championships, as the Wolves ruled the Centennial League and the Raiders took home top honors in the highly-competitive Continental League. The two teams met in non-league play on Jan. 12 at Regis Jesuit, with the Raiders rallying for a 59-53 victory over the Wolves. Both teams were No. 1 seeds in the Class 5A state tournament and both won their respective regions as expected, with Grandview taking the Alice Barron Region championship — the first in school history — and Regis Jesuit topping the Kaye Garms Region. …GRANDVIEW: Coach Josh Ulitzky’s Wolves make their first-ever trip to the 5A semifinals courtesy of playoff wins over Chatfield (second round), Rock Canyon (Sweet 16) and Chaparral (Great 8), games in which they posted an average margin of victory of 24 points…Senior Natasha Edge leads the way for Grandview in terms of scoring, averaging 12.7 points per game on the season and has a team-best 40 points in three playoff contests. Senior Adaeze Obinnah is next at 11.4 points per game, while junior Natalie Halbleib adds 9.4 per ballgame. The team’s leading rebounders are Obinnah (6.4) and senior Sedia Olsen (6.0). Junior point guard Katie Cunningham averages 4.0 steals per game and spearheads a defense that has recorded 51 steals in three postseason contests. …Grandview is seeking to become the Centennial League’s first state champion in the largest classification since now-departed Boulder won 6A in 1994. The conference hasn’t even had a team advance to the state championship game since 2004, when Cherry Creek lost to ThunderRidge. …REGIS JESUIT: Coach Carl Mattei’s Raiders are the only Aurora girls basketball team ever to win a state championship, as they collected the 5A state title in 2009. Regis Jesuit advanced to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven seasons with a Great 8 victory over Horizon, which followed wins over Fort Collins in the Sweet 16 and Boulder in the opening round. …Junior Justine Hall is the team’s leading scorer with an average of 16.8 points per game — 19.3 per game in the playoffs — followed by junior Diani Akigbogun at 14.2 ppg and junior Kelsi Lidge at 8.8 ppg. Akigbogun is the team’s leading rebounder with 8.1 per contest, followed by junior Jordan Molyneaux at 4.3. Four Regis Jesuit players average two or more steals per contest. …Regis Jesuit is trying to extend the Continental League’s run of dominance in terms of state championships, as conference teams have claimed 11 of the 13 5A state titles since 2000 between Highlands Ranch (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011), Regis Jesuit (2009) and ThunderRidge (2003, 2004, 2005). Two of the last three champions have been from other conferences, however, as Denver East won the 5A crown in 2010 and Legacy took it last season.