With two regular season games and a holiday tournament on the agenda, the Longhorn boys basketball (1-7) has the opportunity to gain valuable playing experience before the East region campaign begins in January.
Coach Mike Loutzenheiser's charges spring into holiday season action at 7:30 p.m. this evening in Wilson Dome against Camp Verde.
Friday, the Horns host a Valley Christian team that Loutzenheiser is predicting "will be the best team we play this year."
The coach is basing his assessment on the fact Valley Christian recently won the Round Valley Invitational and the team sports a talented 6-foot 7-inch center who is touted as one of the best players in the 3A conference.
Following the clash against Valley Christian, the Horns take a brief respite before returning to action Dec. 28 and 29 in the Camp Verde Cowboy Invitational. Payson opens the tournament at 5 p.m. Dec. 28 against River Valley.
In the next two weeks, Loutzenheiser is hoping to turn around a season that has produced only one win a 76-43 triumph over Mogollon Dec. 13.
The key to future success, he said, is for his young players to play better defense, score more consistently and improve their overall team play.
In the win over Mogollon, the Horns appeared to be doing just that, jumping out to a 15-8 lead. At halftime, the Horns held a 28-16 cushion. The lead reached 50-29 early in the fourth quarter before Loutzenheiser emptied his bench. Junior swingman Waylon Pettet turned in his best game of the young season, finishing with a game high 20 points.
The win fueled hopes that the young team had turned the corner and was on its way to greater successes
But one day later in Holbrook, the team struggled in a 75-44 loss to the Roadrunners.
The game was originally scheduled to be played Dec. 11, but was postponed after snow fell on the Rim country and made Highway 260 too dangerous for travel.
The loss to Holbrook, Loutzenheiser said, was particularly frustrating in that the Payson players matched up well against the Roadrunners.
But the Horns could never mount the offense to play their way in contention.
The only double-figure scorer in the Horns lineup was sophomore center Mike Barr. He finished with 17 points.
Tonight's game against Camp Verde will be preceded by a jayvee contest at 6 p.m.
Friday, a freshman game will be played at 4:30 p.m. and a junior varsity contest at 6 p.m.