Horns Inch Closer To State Tournament

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The goal of the Longhorns all season has been to reach postseason play where the team would compete in the granddaddy of prep basketball -- the state tournament.

That goal has been reached.

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Although junior varsity player Carlos Lopez won't be traveling to Flagstaff Tuesday with the varsity, he continues to practice his hoop skills in old PHS gymnasium.

The Longhorns, who finished 1-11 and the GCR cellar dwellers, open the region tournament at 7 p.m. in Flagstaff against Coconino. An upset over Coconino would be one step closer toward the Horns earning an eventual state tournament berth.

The Panthers compiled a 9-3 region record and were the Grand Canyon runner-ups. State No. 1 ranked and GCR regular season champion Page will receive a bye in the opening round.

The Horns enter the regional tournament having lost their Feb. 5 regular season finale 44-16 at Page.

In the showdown, the Horns trailed 19-4 at the half at 29-8 at the onset of the final quarter.

Part of the reason for the low-scoring game was the Horns tenacious 3-2 zone defense that forced the Sand Devils to methodically work through their offense before any shot opportunities arose.

Donnie Wilbanks finished as the Longhorns' leading scorer with six points. The victory was the 17th consecutive "W" for the talented Sand Devils. Page also has a 150-game winning streak at home.

Coconino wrapped up the season with an exciting 63-62 win Feb. 5 at Chinle. Coconino's Randy Pryer hit a three-pointer with one second remaining to give the Panthers the victory.

Although the Longhorns will be underdogs against Coconino having lost twice to the Panthers, coach Mike Loutzenheizer said he hopes for the upset.

"In one game, anything can happen," he said.

If the Horns can spring a surprise, Payson would move to GCR second round play Feb. 10.

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