Although all eyes will be focused on Wilson Dome this evening, Dec. 15, to see how the Longhorn (6-1) boys basketball team fares in its East region opener against Show Low (3-2), it’s the Round Valley Elks creating the buzz in smalltown Arizona.
The interest in the bugle boys is because Round Valley (7-1) is red-hot, winning seven straight games after losing its opener, 58-48, to Chinle.
The Elks avenged that loss Dec. 12 by beating the Wildcats 52-40 in the championship of the Round Valley Shoot Out.
The Elks also have in their growing list of credits a 52-40 win over Class 4A Flagstaff Sinagua in the Shoot Out semifinals.
Tonight in Lakeside, Round Valley plays a Blue Ridge (5-1) team that’s lone loss is to Payson.
But enough of the Elks and Jackets — back to the Longhorns vs. Cougars.
Show Low arrives (3-2) in the Rim Country this evening armed with two standouts who are fresh from leading the cats to the state football championship game.
Rathen Ricedorff, the Cougars’ starting quarterback and Josh Weeks, the football team’s leading receiver, have transformed themselves into the kingpins of SL’s basketball hopes.
Both are averaging 15.5 ppg and appear to be the pair the Horns must contain this evening to chalk up their first East win of the young season.
Ricedorff is also the Cougars’ field general with 15 assists, and Weeks pounds the boards as evidenced by his 11 rebounds per game average.
Payson will counter Ricedorff, Weeks and company with the terrific trio of Ever Figueroa, Dakota Marshall and Cody Waterman.
The three led the Longhorns to the championship of the Cake Chevrolet Shoot Out in Winslow, and helped avenge the Horns’ only loss of the season to Winslow.
After falling to the Bulldogs 66-39 in the season opener, Payson rebounded to muzzle the canines 48-44 in the Cake semifinals.
First-year coach Jared Swanson lauds Figueroa, Marshall and Waterman for the senior guidance saying, leadership “is something I expect them to do each game.”
The 6-foot, 5-inch Marshall was a force to reckon with against Winslow, scoring a team-high 18 points and hauling in 12 rebounds.
In a 46-44 tournament win over Blue Ridge, Marshall finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Against Hopi he had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and in a win over Ganado, he dominated the shorter Hornets for 19 points and 13 rebounds.
It’s almost a given in each game that Marshall will finish in double digit scoring and rebounding.
Waterman might have had his best game against Ganado with 20 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter. He also torched Blue Ridge for 19 points.
Figueroa’s finest moment of the season might have been in the last few minutes against Blue Ridge with the score tied 44-44.
After a time out, he took the inbounds pass and dribble drove to the basket to score the winning goal.
As efficient as the Horns offense has been, it is the defense that Swanson continually stresses, saying players that don’t turn in solid efforts on “D” have a tough time winning against good teams.
The new coach also stresses rebounding and good free throw shooting. The Horns have responded by out-boarding most of their opponents, including the Hornets, who lost the rebounding battle by a whopping 42-13 margin.
One of the finest efforts at the line came in the final quarter of the Ganado win when Waterman finished 6-for-6 to help stave off a Hornet rally.
In the win over Winslow, Marshall was 10-for-12 from the stripe.
Following tonight’s game, the Horns return to action Dec. 18 at Fountain Hills.