Facing a rare six-date respite from the rigors of regular season play, the high flyin' Lady Longhorns -- off to an impressive 12-3 start -- won't return to hardwood action until Jan. 14 when the Round Valley Elks visit Wilson dome.
The rest might be just what the hoop doctor ordered since the team just wrapped up a crucial trio of East Division clashes contested over the course of just four days.
During this week's R&R, coach Jerry Daniels and his charges can reflect on past accomplishments, which includes a 4-0 record in the East, and set their sights on what now seems to be a genuine opportunity to capture the division championship.
The Horns first stamped themselves a legitimate title contender Jan. 4 with a stunning 60-54 victory over pre-season championship favorite Snowflake.
Daniels labeled the upset win over the Lobos as "huge for us."
But the caging of the Lobos was only an indication of good things to come for Longhorn faithful.
Friday evening in Lakeside, the Horn express continued to roll unchecked in a 67-36 lambasting of hapless Blue Ridge.
Saturday in Wilson dome, the Show Low Cougars were the next to fall victim to the rapidly improving Longhorns falling 57-51.
Early in the season after Snowflake had pounded the Lady Horns 75-50 in the River Valley Invitational Tournament, the best it seemed Payson could hope for in the East was a second place finish behind the tradition-rich Lobos.
But thanks to some innovative coaching by Daniels and hard-nosed defensive play from Sidney Swartwood and Brandi Waugh, the Horns are on top of the East world.
Because Lady Lobos Cari Adams and Becky Elkins had scored 26 points each in Snowflake's romp over Payson at River Valley, Daniels knew he's was going to have to find a new way to better put the clamps on the Lobo shooting stars.
Instead of employing his usual man-to-man defense or conventional zone, he opted for a triangle-and-two against the Lobos.
Some might call it a gimmick defense but it's been used many times in basketball history to stall a team that rides to victories on the contributions of a pair of outstanding scorers.
With a trio of Lady Horns in a loose zone defense protecting the basket, Swartwood -- a senior -- was given the assignment to hound Elkins.
Brandi Waugh, just a sophomore, was to go toe-to-toe against Adams.
Daniels instructed both his defenders to pick up the Lobo stars just past half-court, above the 3-point line, and shadow them through any picks, backdoor moves, cuts and slashes they might use to free themselves.
What happened that evening could never have been anticipated by the most ardent of Longhorn fans.
Swartwood held Elkins to just three two-point field goals and a total of 10 points.
Waugh was equally as effective holding Adams scoreless in the first half and to only five points in the game.
The defensive tenacity of Swartwood and Waugh began to pay optimum dividends early in the fourth quarter when Payson held just a 43-41 lead.
"You could tell (the Lobos) were getting frustrated," Daniels said. "They began throwing up threes."
Longhorn hopes also received another huge boost during the final quarter when sophomore Jennifer Plumb cashed in on a trio of clutch field goals.
"She really stepped up in the fourth quarter with those three baskets," he said. "That kind of iced it for us."
In addition to the last quarter heroics of Plumb and the defensive contributions of Swartwood and Waugh, Payson was fueled by a solid all-around effort from Rheanna Martinez.
The junior captain finished with a game-high 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field. She also corralled 17 missed shots, contributed seven steals and had one assist.
It was the kind of standout evening fans have come to expect from Martinez.
Swartwood finished with 17 points, most of which came from the charity stripe where she was 9-for-12.
With three assists, three steals, three rebounds and nine points, Plumb was a rock-solid contributor to the Horn cause.
While the Horns thrived on the heads-up play of several individuals, Daniels said it was the overall team play that won it for us.
He cited the Horns for improving on their ball movement and on-the-court communication.
The upset over the Lobos would have meant little had the Lady Horns folded up their tents in the follow-up East encounters against Blue Ridge and Show Low.
But rising to the challenge of the occasion, the Horns dispatched both foes to set the table for a title run.
In the pummeling of the Yellow Jackets, Payson jumped out to a 35-9 lead and never checked the rear view mirror on the road to the 31-point triumph.
Swartwood finished with 22 points, freshman Ashli Herrera had 10 and Bryn Wilkins nine.
In besting the pesky Cougars by six, the Horns relied on the offense of Martinez, Plumb and Waugh. Martinez finished with 15, Plumb had 13 and Waugh 12.