Longhorn boys basketball coach Chuck Hardt and his players are breathing a huge sigh of relief that they'll finally have a respite after playing 11 games in just over two weeks.
"We're looking forward to the eight practices before East games begin (Jan. 3 in Holbrook)," Hardt said.
During the early season onslaught of games, which included tournament appearances in both Flagstaff and Winslow, the Horns had few practice opportunities to iron out the kinks that have always been a part of early season high school play.
"Sometimes that hurt us. We needed practice," Hardt said. "Now we have the chance to add more stuff, both to our offense and defense."
Early season games are also particularly tough on football players, like starting point guard Miles Huff, who did not have the practice opportunities to switch modes from the gridiron to the hardwood.
Among the maladies Hardt hopes to correct during the holidays is a half-court offense that has yet to click on all cylinders.
"We have struggled with that," Hardt said.
Having a well-oiled offense in the arsenal will be especially important in the stretch run because of the defenses the Horns will likely encounter.
"We will see a lot of zones," the coach said. "All types of them."
Hardt has been happy with his team's ability to get the ball inside or to the low post, where up-close isolation shots can be taken and fouls drawn.
"We've been much better at that," he said. "At least, we are looking."
The coach also praised the players' willingness to find the open man and dish off assists.
"We've shared the ball really well," he said.
Hardt would, however, like to see more player movement without the ball and says that will be a goal during holiday practice sessions.
Defensively, Hardt wants his players to improve their rotation to the weak side in the half-court setting.
When that successfully occurs, players have more opportunities for "help defense" and can cover up lapses.
Although Hardt has long been an advocate of basic man-to-man defenses, it would come as a surprise to almost no one if he used holiday practice hours to install some type of an aggressive half- or full-court press and possibly a form of a match-up zone.
Last season, it was an in-your-face, breakneck-style of defensive play that produced the Longhorns' finest effort.
It occurred in the first round of the state tournament in Flagstaff after the Horns had fallen behind state championship favorite and No. 1 ranked, Chandler Seton Catholic. Trailing 39-16 at halftime, the Horns returned to the floor with a defensive vengeance that pulled PHS within an eyelash of a victory.
Hardt remembers the game well. "In the first half, we were too soft defensively and then we went full court (press) and put our body on them when they got in the lane," Hardt said. "We gave them no easy looks in the half court."
The Horns' up-tempo defensive effort carried over to the offensive end of the floor as they pulled to within three before falling 62-55.
Hardt is not revealing his defensive hand this season, but rock solid "D" such as the team put on against Seton might be a key to East honors and a berth into the state tournament.