The Longhorn hoopsters will have to deliver on their New Year’s resolutions early this year — facing a tough string of games at a tournament in Prescott starting on Dec. 30.
Gut-punched by a lopsided loss to Fountain Hills just before Christmas, the team has to practice hard through the holiday, hoping to retool their tattered game plan.
The five tournament games dominated by out-of-state opponents will test their resolve to pivot off a strong defense to rack up enough fast-break points to reverse a so-far losing season.
“We’re trying to focus on fundamentals,” said coach Bill Goodwin.
“Our guys just haven’t learned to deliver the knockout punch. They’re really nice young men. I really enjoy them. I’m very proud of them. I don’t want to change who they are — but we need a little meanness in them.”
The young team is still seeking its footing, after two straight losses dropped the season tally to six losses and four wins.
An eager, athletic, relatively inexperienced team without superstars to build an offense around, the Longhorns have so far done better on containing opponents than in putting points on the board themselves.
And when their defense does fray, the game often comes unraveled — for lack of a consistent, pace-setting offense.
Last week’s loss to Fountain Hills illustrated the dilemma, as the relatively small Longhorn team struggled to find a way to contain two, big, domineering opponents each of which had a 6- or 10-inch height advantage over most of the Longhorn players on the court.
The conventional strategy for a team laboring against a height advantage is to block and steal and thwart at one end of the court, then to move the ball quickly down the full length of the court to score before their opponents can set up a defense. So far, the Longhorns have proven better at stealing the ball than at converting the turnover into points.
On the positive side, the team has meshed well and scoring, rebounding and assists have been spread liberally around among both the starters and the players coming off the bench, the coach said.
The team has benefitted from the teamwork of Tanner and Russ Hintze, brothers who for the past two games have alternated racking up high scores, Goodwin said.
Guillermo Lopez, Zack Blazer and Cole Belcher have contributed at both ends of the court consistently.
“We’ve had five or six young men lead us in scoring. We’re very balanced. We feel we’re deep — and that anyone on the bench can play.”
But the team will have to find its stride in the demanding sequence of games, starting with a 1 p.m. game and a 6 p.m. game. The tournament in Prescott will mostly pit the Longhorns against out-of-state teams, so they’ll have to improvise — but should get an intense dose of varied experience.
Goodwin hopes that the tournament will provide a good team-building experience, which the sputtering Longhorns need as they head into the second half of the season having won just 40 percent of their games up to this point.
“My philosophy is that defense and rebounding wins you games,” said Goodwin, but the weak offense has required some readjustments. “We’re spending more time on offense (in practices) now. We’ve put some new options in the offense. We’re still looking for the right combination of guys who can finish the game strong.”