The first step most small-town Arizona basketball coaches take when playing reservation teams is to prepare their players to defend fast break offenses, attack swarming full court pressure defenses and contest from three-point land.
Longhorn second-year coach Kenny Hayes is scheming those strategies in preparation for today’s (Feb. 27) state tournament second-round game in Chinle against the homestanding Wildcats.
But he’s doing so with a little hesitation.
“They don’t press or shoot the threes like a lot of Native American teams do,” he said.
In fact, the coach expects Chinle to remain in the 2-3 zone coach Ned Curley has used much of the year.
If Chinle shows that strategy as expected, the Longhorns will run a zone offense they call “Kansas.”
Which means the Longhorn players must execute well, be patient and work the ball inside to 6-foot, 6-inch Matt Wilson or possibly 6-foot, 4-inch Tyler Savage.
They will also run some set plays to get a player open for a good shot, either inside or a 3-pointer.
Hayes anticipates Chinle will try to crank up their fast break offense, but says he doesn’t want to get into a track meet with the Cats.
“If we have the fast break, we will take it, but if not, we’ll slow it down,” he said.
Chinle (23-5, 9-3 in the region) enters the game as a state No. 3 seed, having finished second in the powerful North region behind Window Rock.
If Chinle has any bragging rights this season, they occurred Dec. 11 at the Pepsi Invitational in Flagstaff.
There, the Wildcats pulled off the upset of the campaign, edging state top-ranked Estrella Foothills and its superstar, Corey Hawkins, 62-60.
That was Estrella’s only loss of the season to an Arizona team.
Chinle has also shown well against the East, defeating Show Low, Blue Ridge and, on two occasions, Snowflake.
In Chinle, which is a grueling, 5-hour-plus bus ride from Payson, the Horns will also have to deal with the huge crowds that fill The Wildcat Den to support their team.
More than 4,000 Chinle fans could be in attendance.
“We are looking forward to that, it’s a great atmosphere,” Hayes said. “They love their basketball there, but we can’t let that intimidate us.”
Curiously, as much support as the Cats receive in their home town, Chinle is only 5-4 in the Den and 9-0 away.
Chinle advanced to the second-round game against Payson by virtue of a 62-35 victory Feb. 21 over River Valley.
Payson will take to Chinle one of the hottest shooters in the 3A conference — Cody York.
In the Horns’ state first-round 75-46 victory over Sedona Red Rock, York set a school record for three-pointers, sinking eight of 11 attempts. He also finished with 33 points, one shy of his career high.
But as good as York is, he also has a strong supporting cast in Dakota Marshall, Cody Waterman, Shane Keith, Savage and Wilson.
If the Horns can get past Chinle, PHS would advance to the final four for a third consecutive year. That semifinal game is set for 4:15 p.m. March 6 in Jobbing.com Arena in Glendale.
Payson’s probable foe there would be Window Rock. In other quarterfinal games around the state, Estrella Foothills (No. 1) hosts Fountain Hills (No. 8) and Chino Valley (No. 5) travels to Safford (No. 4). Also, Winslow (No. 7) visits Window Rock (No. 2).