That's opportunity knocking on the Longhorn door.
Old mother chance arrived at the entryway in the form of a pair of East region games that would vault Payson -- if victorious -- back into contention for East region honors.
The games are at 7:30 p.m. Jan 20 in Show Low and Jan. 21 in Holbrook.
Victories in the two games are crucial to Payson title hopes mostly because the Longhorns dropped back-to-back East region games Jan. 13 to Alchesay, 60-55, and Jan. 14 to Blue Ridge, 53-49. The Horns rebounded from the twin defeats to beat Round Valley 64-52 Jan. 15 in Wilson dome. The victory improved their East region credentials to 2-3 (10-10 overall) with seven games remaining in the regular season.
In the win over the Elks, the Horns received 13 points from senior Brandon Buckner and 10 from sophomore Ollie Lewinson.
Payson players, however, might have been their own worst enemy, committing a whopping 15 turnovers.
The Horns countered the sloppy ball handling with a 36-12 Longhorn rebounding edge that thwarted the Elks most of the evening. Lewinson corralled 12 rebounds and Brian Schwind hauled in nine.
A victory over a rebuilding Show Low Cougars team that is 0-5 in the region is a manageable task for the Longhorns. However, whipping the region-leading Holbrook Roadrunners(5-0) on its home court will be a much more formidable task.
Holbrook has to its credit a 61-53 victory over Payson Jan. 4 in Wilson dome and features three of the finest players in the region -- Corderro Bennett, Olen Hatch and Leland Duffy.
Bennett, a 6-foot guard, who transferred last fall to Holbrook from Gary, Ind., scored a game-high 22 points in the Roadrunners win over PHS.
Hatch, a 6-foot-3-inch, forward-center tallied 18 and Duffy, a three-point shooting threat, finished with 12.
There are those around the region who argue the 18-1 Roadrunners are the No. 1 team in the 3A conference.
The Longhorns will counter the Roadrunners with their Rim Country one-two punch of Schwind and Buckner.
Schwind is the Horns' leading scorer, averaging just over 13 points a game. Buckner is second, with a 9.2 ppg average.
In the loss to Alchesay, Schwind was held to just seven points, but rebounded the following night against Blue Ridge to tally a team-leading 14 points.
Buckner, usually a model of consistency, scored 10 against Alchesay, but struggled offensively against Blue Ridge, finishing with a season-low three points.
A key to wins over Show Low and Holbrook might rest on the shoulders of the 6-foot-7-inch Lewinson who missed seven games this season due to a family trip overseas.
"We are a different team with him in the lineup," coach Chuck Hardt said.
If Lewinson rounds into top form and can play beyond his years, he and the 6-foot-5-inch Schwind give the Longhorns two threats down low.
To upset Holbrook, the Horns will also need strong guard play from juniors Bryson Addington and Miles Huff.
Hardt has said that when the two playmakers pile up assists and keep turnovers at a minimum, the Horns are a formidable team.
In a Jan. 10 win over a very good Estrella Foothills team, Addington brought a smile to Hardt's face by chalking up nine assists and committing just two turnovers.
Huff is also a three-point threat, having hit 22 of 56 attempts this season from beyond the 19-foot-9-inch arc.
The regular season wraps up Feb. 4 in Wilson dome against Show Low and the regional tournament tips off Feb. 7 at the home site of the highest seed in the regular season standings.
On the junior varsity front, coach Kenny Hayes' charges improved to 11-1, with a 71-67 victory over the Round Valley Elks.
In the Jan. 17 shootout in Wilson dome, Robert Walker led all scorers, with 24 points, but it might have been the yeoman-like work of Matt Jones that kept the Elks at bay.
Jones finished with 12 points, led the team in rebounding and played solid defense around the basket.
"I really like that kid; he's a hard worker," Hayes said.
The freshman team improved to 11-1 (5-0 in the East) with a 74-35 thumping of the Elks. Max Sieverson and Shane Keith led the PHS attack, with 14 points each.