Arizona's two top ranked 3A boys basketball teams, Estrella Foothills and Payson respectively, were not expected to lock horns until the state tournament in February 2008.
But because both teams are aligned in the same bracket of the 16-team Pepsi Invitational Tournament, the two could possibly clash at 1 p.m. Dec. 8 in the Flagstaff High School dome.
For that to happen, EF and the Longhorns would both have to win their first two tournament games and advance to the semifinals.
Payson will open the tournament 8 p.m. Dec. 6 against Tucson Sabino.
If the Horns win, they would play the following day, also at 8 p.m. against the winner of a first round game, pitting Sinagua against Chinle.
For Estrella to reach the semifinals and possibly play Payson, it would have to win an opening-round game over Winslow and then defeat, in the second round, the winner of an earlier clash between Valley Christian and Willow Canyon.
If the Longhorns reach the championship game it would be played at 9 p.m. Dec. 8.
Valley Christian, Florence fall
The Longhorns tuned up for the Pepsi showdown with victories over Valley Christian 64-56 and Florence 79-39.
In beating VC, Nov. 30 in Wilson dome, the Horns whipped a talent-laden team that is expected to contend for the 2A state title.
As good as Valley Christian is predicted to be, the team was no match for the Longhorn's three-pronged attack of Robert Walker, Cody York and Oliver Lewinson.
Walker, a left handed sharp shooter who is equally adept at putting up the outside jumper as he is driving to the rim, turned in his best game of the young season finishing with 18 points, three rebounds three assists and just one turnover.
Had he not got himself into foul trouble, his contributions to the win might have been even greater. Lewinson finished with 14 points 10 rebounds, three blocks and three steals.
Most importantly, the 6-foot, 8-inch Lewinson managed to dominate inside and force VC into become a jump-shooting team.
York turned in a commendable floor game with 13 points, one rebound, two steals and three assists.
If coach Kenny Hayes enjoyed a mild surprise in the win it was the rock 'em, sock 'em play of reserve David Carlen.
Known more for his exploits as middle linebacker on the Longhorn football team than as a basketball player, Carlen showed a willingness to bang inside, where some high school players shy away.
His hard hat and lunch pail approach to the game could bode the Horns well when play turns physical.
"He won't shy away from anyone and he likes to play defense, I love it," Hayes said.
The coach also lauded the play of 6-foot, 4-inch forward Tyler Savage, who finished with six points and six rebounds.
"He had some nice put-backs," Hayes said.
In whipping Florence, Dec. 1 in Florence, by 40 points the Horns rolled over a Gopher team obviously shy on talent and desire.
The Gopher players might not have been as focused as they need be, mostly because of swirling controversies in the town regarding rape allegations involving a cheerleader and FHS student athlete.
With Lewinson pounding his way inside for 14 points and senior guard Levi Neal sinking three-pointers from beyond the arc, the Payson "O" was clicking on all cylinders.
Neal finished with 14 points including three-of-five three-point shooting and a three-of-four effort from the free throw line.
Walker tallied 14 points and junior Matt Wilson finished with nine points and five rebounds.