Longhorns Battle For Berth In Playoffs

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The Longhorn boys basketball team (2-7 in the region) will try to escape the ravages of a Grand Canyon second division finish with a victory today over the Flagstaff Eagles. Game time is 7 p.m. in Wilson Dome.

If the Horns can't climb to a second-, third- or fourth-place regular season finish, the team would have to travel to a host school for the Feb. 10 opening round of the 4A state tournament. The region's second-, third- or fourth-place teams host first-round state games.

The regular season champion receives a bye and the fifth-, sixth- and seventh-place finishers must travel.

If the Longhorns are to have any chance at advancing past the state's opening round, the team needs to earn the advantageous home seed.

In the Horns' first meeting against Flagstaff, a 45-30 loss Jan. 10 in Flagstaff, Payson was its own worst enemy.

Trailing by five points late in the game, the Horns picked up both intentional and technical fouls that eventually led to Payson's demise.

"That all led to about an eight-point turnaround," coach Mike Loutzenheiser said. "We don't want to have that happen again.

The key to a home court win over Flagstaff for the Longhorns will be finding point production from someone other than 6-foot, 7-inch senior center Mike Barr.

In the Longhorns' 64-61 win over homestanding Mingus Jan. 20, Barr produced his usual double digit scoring with 21 points.

The Horns also had two other players finish in double digits. Kyle Hubbard tallied 12 points and Andy Sargent finished with 10. Cort Connolly chipped in with nine points and Donnie Wilbanks had eight.

If the Horns can get that type of point production from five players, rather than relying on Barr's inside scoring, Payson is capable of whipping almost any regional foe.

On the flip side, when only Barr scores, the Horns struggle.

For example, in a 50-44 loss to Flagstaff Coconino Jan. 22, Barr tallied 22 but no other Payson player came close to double figures. Wellington Cassuto and Hubbard finished with six each.

Another key to a Horn victory is to score late and score often. In most of the team's losses this year, the Horn offense has misfired late in the game. Payson reversed that trend in the victory over Mingus, outscoring the Marauders 24-20 in the fourth period.

But, Jan. 17 in a 52-29 loss to preseason regional champion-favorite Page, the Longhorns countered the Sand Devils' 18 fourth-quarter points with just 10 of their own.

Following this evening's showdown against the Eagles, the playoff fate of the Horns will hinge on the outcome of the three final regular season games. They are against Chinle (Jan. 30 in Chinle), Sinagua (Feb. 3 in Wilson Dome) and Mingus (Feb. 4 in Wilson Dome). Tip-off times for all three games is 7 p.m.

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