LAS VEGAS - There was no shortage of eye-popping performances from Arizona targets Saturday at the Las Vegas Classic as the 17U Platinum Championship Bracket got underway at Durango High School.
The game of the night belonged to the Oakland Soldiers and Arizona Stars, who played in front of a standing-room-only crowd - a who's who of college coaches included - inside the facility's smaller gym.
With eight seconds to play and his team down a point, Soldiers forward Stanley Johnson stole an inbounds pass and converted a layup with three seconds to play to hold off a furious late rally by the Stars in a 70-67 thriller.
"Just being on my toes," Johnson said of the sequence. "I knew they were trying to go to Dorian because he's their best free throw shooter, so I wanted to guard him and give myself a chance to make a play.
"It was rolling on the ground so I just picked it up, and he forced me baseline and tried to take a charge. I kind of maneuvered around and made the layup, and that was about it."
The Stars threw away the next inbounds pass, as well, and Johnson iced the game with two free throws for the final margin.
In a gritty effort, Stars guard Dorian Pickens poured in 21 points and helped turn a late eight-point deficit into a 64-62 lead with less than two minutes to play.
The four-star 2014 sharpshooter connected on a series of jump shots after halftime to salvage his shooting numbers and finish 8 of 17 from the floor - including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. And he did so while being hounded by the 6-6, 200-pound Johnson, who is no slouch on defense and was giving Pickens issues midway through the game.
"I'm always going to be able to get my shot off," Pickens said. "I thought I should've maybe attacked more, focused on my shot, took my time and played at my pace a little bit more."
Stars head coach Ray Arvizu Jr. was proud of his team's comeback, knowing that they let one slip away.
"That last eight seconds, like I told my guys, 'I'll take that loss because we lost the game - they didn't beat us,'" Arvizu said. "Although we made some mistakes - and I take the blame because I should've called a timeout but I was holding it to see what else was going to happen - but in the end of the day I'm proud of the guys. They all battled.
"I think we showed that our kids can battle with anyone in the country. I know [the Soldiers] have a lot of guys that are high, high-major kids."
Part of the buzz belonged to Soldiers forward Aaron Gordon, who played through multiple injuries after sitting out of the team's contest the previous night. The No. 5-ranked 2013 prospect scored just 12 points and was held out for the crucial stretch of the second half, but he did provide the play of the game when he soared under the basket from one side of the key to the other for a windmill slam.
Despite the limited minutes, Gordon was more than happy with the victory - unlike his stellar performance Thursday in a losing effort against California Supreme in pool play.
"This is my last run at AAU and I just want to finish it out on my terms, not on an injury's terms," said Gordon, who is playing with a strained oblique and broken toe on top of the twisted ankle suffered two nights ago.
Lights out shooting
Earlier in the day, Portland ICR Red quickly learned the hard way that you cannot give Pickens much space.
The Arizona Stars shooting guard knocked down three of his first five shots - two 3-pointers - and scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the first half of an 81-60 opening-round victory.
The Stars raced out to a 26-12 lead in a hurry as Pickens piled up 10 points within the first six minutes. From there, the team took a 45-29 lead into the break thanks to precise passing and hot shooting from just about everyone.
"The thing about Dorian that I happened to notice, especially this summer, is he really finds ways to get his shots off," Arvizu said. "If that means coming off a screen, if that means giving him a little nudge, Dorian's got great footwork and he can pretty much get his shot off in any situation."
But Portland ICP Red chipped away in the second half, cutting the lead down to as little as nine with 10 minutes to play. However, the Stars pushed the lead back to 20 with 4:05 remaining and cruised.
Pickens made 7 of 10 shots including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and added five rebounds.
Portland ICP Red bounced back later in the day to edge Louisiana Elite and Jarell Martin, 61-59.
Lee puts together back-to-back standout performances
Easily the most consistent player of the day, Marcus Lee was a terror on both ends of the floor for Cal Supreme.
The four-star power forward started his day with a 12-point, 13-rebound effort in a 65-51 win over Chicago Demons. Lee also added three blocks and made five of his six field goal attempts.
But the Antioch (Calif.) Deer Valley big man saved his best for last.
Lee scored 19 of his 31 points in the first half of Cal Supreme's 67-58 triumph over Greg Monroe ASSISTS. The 33rd-ranked 2013 prospect converted 13 of 15 field goal attempts - including all five in the second half - and recorded another double-double with 10 rebounds to go with three blocks.
Whether it was his jump hooks in the lane, footwork in the post or ability to get to the free-throw line - he made 5 of 11 attempts - it was all working.
"Marcus has, as of late, been really special," Cal Supreme head coach Miles Simon said. "He's showing why he's really rising up the rankings."
Simon added that it wasn't too long ago at Peach Jam that Lee's shot-blocking and ability to pick and choose when to leave his feet wasn't as "smart."
"We talked to him about that," the ex-Wildcat said. "About not making dumb fouls and keeping himself in the game.
"He's just been much smarter. He has great anticipation. He is a high basketball IQ guy so it's been great to see."
Winslow sensational for Houston Hoops
Justise Winslow had all of his skills on display in Houston Hoops' first contest of the day.
Winslow poured in 27 points on 10-of-17 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead Houston Hoops to a 74-65 win over Illinois Old School.
The No. 8-ranked player in the 2014 class was scoring from everywhere inside the 3-point arc and made 7 of 8 free throws. In addition, Winslow dished out three assists, made two blocks and picked up a steal.
"(Winslow) does so many things to affect a game, and he's a special talent," Houston Hoops head coach Tim Schumacher said.
Winslow's team raced out to a 12-4 lead within the first five minutes and took a 32-19 advantage into halftime.
Illinois Old School did not go quietly, however, cutting the deficit to four with 11:40 to play and then to three on a four-point play with 3:58 remaining. But Houston Hoops' athleticism proved to be too much, and Winslow responded with a pair of baskets as part of a quick 6-0 spurt to help his team hold on.
"Justise is a special player," Schumacher said. "He has a super high IQ, but late in the game there you saw he just kind of turned it on and makes winning plays.
"The sky's the limit for him."
Winslow did not do it all alone, as Brian Bridgewater added 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting and pulled down seven boards.
The team then rolled past Play Hard Play Smart in the nightcap, 63-38.
Okafor puts exclamation point on victory
Mac Irvin Fire watched a commanding double-digit halftime lead over Emerald City Pioneers cut to five points, but 2014 big man Jahlil Okafor finally had enough and closed the deal for an 80-67 victory.
Okafor finished with 32 points and a flurry of dunks with the game hanging in the balance.
Earlier in the day, the 6-10 center had 13 points and five rebounds in a 73-41 blowout over San Antonio Roadrunners.
Dastrup, AZ Select fall
Payton Dastrup and Arizona Select fell behind 33-19 through one half and could never seriously threaten BTI Double Pump in a 53-44 decision.
In a game that had very little flow, issues with scorekeeping and other stops in play, Dastrup finished with 10 points, three rebounds and two assists.
"We played that team before and it was the same thing the whole entire game," Dastrup said. "You can't make excuses but the refs - both games - were kind of under par."
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor