The Lady Longhorns tip off Holiday Hoops tournament tomorrow, Dec. 28, against a San Tan Foothills team that appears to be struggling and is making its first-ever appearance in the holiday invitational.
The game begins at 10 a.m. and will mark the onset of a two-day tournament in which 30-plus games will be played.
Because San Tan is a relatively new school in Queen Creek, the Sabercats are somewhat of an unknown in prep basketball circles.
The team sports a 4-11 record and opened with a trio of losses before rebounding on Dec. 1 to whip Hayden, 24-20.
San Tan has taken its lumps in a handful of games losing 42-12 to Sandra Day O’Connor, 69-43 to Coolidge and 59-20 to Apache Junction.
For Payson to win and advance to the second round of Holiday Hoops, the defense must contain a pair of the Sabercats’ finest players — 5-foot-4-inch point guard Rubelle Garay and Jackie Barlow, a 5-foot-4-inch guard and team captain.
Barlow averages 14.4 points per game and Garay scores at an 11.3 ppg clip.
Scouting reports indicate both are threats from beyond the three-point line.
Combined, they have put up an amazing 138 three-pointers and made good on 44 of the attempts.
The pair are also the team’s two leading ball handlers and are obviously adept at drawing fouls.
Garay is 36 of 52 from the line and Barlow has been at the charity stripe 79 times making 46.
While the team also sports a 6-foot center in Mackenzie Nims, she’s not much of a scoring threat having shot only seven times in 15 games.
The team’s Achilles heel might be turnovers, having committed 97 this season.
The Lady Horns
PHS coach Jen White will counter San Tan with her big guns of Teanna Lopez and Chioya Hill. The dynamic duo lead the team in scoring and Hill, a junior captain, is also a ferocious rebounder and defender.
In the Wickenburg Invitational on Dec. 16 and 17, Lopez finished as top scorer averaging 23 points per game and Hill averaged 16 rebounds each of the four contests.
White also praised Harley Turney, Molly Davis and Katelyn Curtis for their efforts in the tournament saying all, “were strong leaders and had solid numbers.”
Emmee Ashby and Alex Parker add proven depth to the Lady Horn lineup.
In the Lady Horns most recent outing, Dec. 20 vs. Fountain Hills in Wilson Dome, Payson lost 57-44 after trailing just 29-21 at halftime. Lopez led all PHS scorers with 16 points. Turney tallied eight points and Ashby had seven. Hill turned in her usual outstanding rebounding effort with 13 retrieves and Ashby helped put the clamps on the Falcons’ top scoring threat.
“The girls played hard despite two sick players that had to leave the bench with the flu,” said White. “Fountain Hills was a tough team, but the girls stayed with them up until the end.
“We played strong defense and were able to avoid the Falcons’ trap.”
If the Lady Longhorns can muster the offense, defense and will to whip San Tan in the tournament opener, the team will advance to a second round game against the winner of a Queen Creek vs. Catalina Foothills first round clash.
That game will be played at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday in the dome.
If Payson loses to San Tan they play tomorrow at 4 p.m. in Julia Randall Elementary School gymnasium against the loser of the Queen Creek vs. Foothills game.
The tournament’s championship game will be played at 8 p.m. Thursday in the dome.
Also entered in the tournament are Mesa Westwood, Santa Cruz, Apollo, Higley, Gilbert, Catalina, Marana, Blue Ridge, Yuma Kofa, Florence, Xavier and Poston Butte.
While the Arizona Interscholastic Association does not award all-important power points for tournament games, the Lady Horns can use Holiday Hoops to fine-tune their game to rack up more points once the regular season resumes Jan. 3 vs. Page.
In early season play, Payson (5-4 overall) has dug itself a deep power points hole.
Currently the team is ranked 27th among the 57 teams in Division III.
In Section III, the Lady Horns are sitting eighth out of 17 teams.