Horns Hobbled By Loss Of Vets

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After leading the Longhorns to the East regional championship and a state quarterfinal berth last season, coach Mike Loutzenheiser is struggling to find ways to recover the magic of old.

But that might be impossible.

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In the Longhorns' 60-47 win over Sinagua Jan. 13 in Flagstaff, junior Donnie Wilbanks (20) scored 13 points. The Horns return to action tomorrow when they take on the Page Dust Devils in Wilson Dome. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

The coach simply lost too much basketball talent with the graduation of the class of 2003. Gone from the last season's team are seven talented seniors who formed the nucleus of a squad that posted a 19-8 record and strung together a 13-game winning streak.

Only two players from that team -- Mike Barr and Kyle Hubbard -- are currently on the PHS roster.

The remainder of the roster is made up of athletes in their first year of full-time varsity competition.

Some teams simply reload after they are hit hard by graduation. But it's painfully obvious the Horns are not one of those squads -- they are rebuilding.

After dropping four consecutive Grand Canyon region games, the Horns did breathe a breath of fresh air Jan. 13 in Wilson Dome with a 60-47 victory over Flagstaff Sinagua. Mike Barr's 16 points and 13 from Donnie Wilbanks fueled the Longhorn upset effort.

In the Longhorns 62-58 loss to Chinle Jan. 9 in the dome, the inexperience of the young players turned evident late in the game. After building a 31-28 halftime lead and expanding it to 49-43, the Horns were outscored 25-13 in the final quarter.

In the crucial final three minutes, the Horns committed three turnovers which Chinle converted into field goals. Also, during those precarious final few ticks of the clock, the deafening cheers and rants of the pro-Chinle crowd that packed the dome appeared to rattle the young players.

"Our kids are young and they've never played in that atmosphere before," Loutzenheiser said.

During preseason practices, the coach acknowledged his team would suffer both from inexperience and the school's move up the 4A conference from the 3A ranks.

"It could be a challenging year for our young men," he predicted.

With a 7-12 record, the coach's sneak peak at the future appears to be as if he were rubbing a crystal ball.

In most of the team's losses this season, the Longhorns have failed to light up the scoreboard with varsity-like numbers. Against Flagstaff Jan 10, the offense sputtered throughout the 45-30 defeat.

Barr, a 6-foot, 7-inch, 230-pound center, was held to nine points. In the first half, he scored only two. Only Hubbard, who cashed in on two first-quarter three-pointers, scored in double figures with 10 points.

As frustrated as Loutzenheiser and his players were, the Longhorns remained in contention until early in the fourth quarter.

After Payson pulled to within 30-26, the wheels came off the Longhorn bus.

By scoring only two fourth-quarter field goals and missing the front end of three one-and-one free throws, Payson was its own worst enemy.

A disturbing trend that has developed as of late is the difference in the free throw attempts awarded Payson and its opponents.

The trend continued in the loss to the Eagles when Flagstaff hit 16 of 25 attempts and the Horns were just 6-of-11 from the line.

The Longhorns have another chance to turn things around tomorrow (Saturday) when the Page Dust Devils visit Wilson Dome.

Caging the Devils could be a tough task for the young Horns. Page will enter the game with a 16-1 record and a state second-place ranking.

Page's only loss this year was to 5A Deer Valley in a holiday tournament finale.

Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

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