Ricardo De La Riva admits to having flashbacks to two years ago, when his Nogales boys basketball team won the 4A-I state title.
The Apaches coach said this year's team is hungry for it, just like last time.
This squad also has it's own "big three," just like last time.
Now, De La Riva is hoping to win it all, just like last time.
Nogales has been impressive all year - and dominant down the stretch. It has won seven of its last eight games; the only loss came against Mesa, the top-ranked team in Division I.
Nogales opened up the Division II, Section I tournament Wednesday with a 51-36 win over Amphitheater. It was the second time in a month the Apaches beat the last year's state runner-up, which - after upsetting Catalina Foothills a few weeks ago - proved it's a legitimate contender.
Nogales will face Salpointe Catholic at 5:45 p.m. tonight at Amphi. On the other side of the bracket, Foothills plays Sahuaro at 7:30.
If both the Apaches and Falcons win, we can see two of the best teams from Southern Arizona play Saturday night. It would mark their first showdown this season.
Saturday could also be a preview of the Division II state championship game.
De La Riva wouldn't mind that.
"It would be nice if two Southern Arizona teams get there," he said.
The coach has a reason to feel good about his team with the state tournament beginning next week. Senior Bryan Cervantes, who was on the team that won state, said this year's group is even stronger and closer.
"We were probably bigger that year that we won state," Cervantes said. "But I actually think the team we have now is stronger than any team we've have in the past couple of years."
Cervantes is one of three players averaging double figures in scoring with 13.4 points per game. Classmate Andres Marquez leads the team with 18.8 a game, while Miguel Corrales averages 10.6.
"I think this team has more unity in how they do things on the court," De La Riva said. "They're not selfish how they do things on the court."
But they don't just score. Corrales is a defensive specialist who averages a team-high 1.6 steals per game.
"Defense wins games," Corrales said.
Meanwhile, Cervantes leads the team with 1.4 blocks per game, and Marquez leads with 2.3 assists per game.
"It's not an important detail that I lead the team in scoring," Marquez said. "I do whatever the team needs to win as a team."
That balance, combined with the team unity that De La Riva considers a strong point, might be the recipe for a title championship.
"We're more united," Cervantes said.
"There's no one trying to be a hero, we all just play to win and not to shine."
Cotton hits game-winner, milestone in one day
Former Palo Verde star Bryce Cotton surpassed 1,000 college points Sunday when he scored a game-high 18 points and hit a game-winning three-pointer with 2.2 seconds as Providence edged Villanova. Cotton, a junior, leads the Big East in scoring with 20.9 points per game.
Add Shields to soccer list
In all the chaos of a busy national signing day Wednesday, we forgot to mention Sabino girls soccer player Shannon Shields.
The senior signed her letter of intent to play for Sam Houston State.
Shields, a four-year player for the Sabercats, was also included in the group of 17 players from the 95 Red TSA squad who signed to play at the next level.
AIA to host basketball bracket release show
The Arizona Interscholastic Association will announce the final state basketball rankings and release the state tournament brackets on their website on Sunday. Visit www.aia365.com around 1 p.m.
The state tournaments begin Tuesday.