There'll be more at stake than first place in the East region standings when the Payson Longhorns and the Alchesay Falcons clash tonight, Friday, in Wilson Dome.
Also on the line in the much-ballyhooed skirmish will be team, school and community pride.
In both Whiteriver and the Rim Country, players, parents and fans are touting the current editions of their respective hardwood teams as among the finest in more than a decade.
Alchesay faithful are claiming the Falcons could be as good as the 1993 team that won the Class 2A state title and the 1998 crew that finished as 3A runners-up, just one season after moving to the 3A ranks from 2A.
Payson fans are comparing the current Longhorns to the Mike Loutzenheiser-coached 1993 East region championship team that posted a 19-8 record -- the Horn's best mark in 23 years.
That gold medal winning team was senior-dominated, just as the 2007 edition is led by seniors Miles Huff, Bryson Addington and Carlos Lopez.
Much of the Rim Country hoopla surrounding the Longhorns centers on the team's 12-4 start and first place tie in the region standings with the Falcons. Both teams enter tonight's encounter with 2-0 East marks.
The Horns feature a pair of the 3A conference's most accomplished players in center/forward Oliver Lewinson and point guard Miles Huff.
Lewinson, a 6-foot, 8-inch junior, leads the East in both blocked shots and rebounds. Huff, whose responsibility it is to engineer the Payson offense, is tops in the region in assists and is tied for second in steals.
The state second-ranked Falcons bring to Wilson Dome a team sporting a 16-1 record and a roster filled with well-rounded reservation players.
PHS coach Chuck Hardt said scouting reports indicated Alchesay doesn't rely on a single superstar, but rather flourishes on the play of several players that can score, defend and run the floor.
Among the standouts is defensive stopper Blain Lupe who is tops in the region in steals. Isaac Roberts, a White Mountain Holiday Classic All-tournament selection, ranks third in scoring and George Cosay third in assists.
Alchesay's top long-distance threat is three-point specialist, Quincy Early.
Harold Quintero, Josh Barker and L.J. Andreas provide the depth previous Alchesay teams have not had.
The Falcons' lone loss this year was 71-64 to Estrella Foothills in the semifinals of the 15-team Holiday Classic.
Seton pushed to the brink
The Horns might have proven they have the talent and court savvy to play with the best in the conference, including Alchesay, in a 59-56 loss to always-powerful Chandler Seton Catholic.
The clash, contested Jan. 6 in Wilson Dome, featured a rematch of the two teams that met in the opening round of the 2005-2006 state tournament in Flagstaff. In that game, highly favored Seton won 61-55 after a furious fourth quarter Horn rally fell short.
In Saturday's meeting, the Horns opened on a tear, building a 15-11 first quarter lead before CSC rallied to tie the game 29-29 at half.
During the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Horns trailed 44-40, but managed to pull within 57-56 before two Chandler Seton free throws iced the outcome with less than a second remaining.
Although the Horns lost, the team put on a gritty display despite having one of their starting players, Robert Walker, watching from the sidelines with a cast on his injured foot.
In his absence, Addington and Lewinson turned in stellar all-around games. Lewinson finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot.
But most importantly, he showed the talent underneath the basket to outplay his 6-foot, 7-inch Chandler counterpart, who Lewinson beat several times on short jumpers after receiving good feeds from his teammates.
Addington tallied 15 points, had three assists and two steals.
Huff and Lopez finished with seven points each.