Ending careless play and erasing away excessive turnovers will undoubtedly be a Longhorn boys basketball team goal when it travels today, Dec. 27, to Bradshaw Mountain High School to compete in the 18-team Alvarez Tire Holiday Hoops Classic.
The concern over miscues is because they have handcuffed the Horns (6-3) in all three of their losses this season. Coach Joe Sanchez, his players and fans know if those mistakes are cleaned up, Payson could be in line for postseason honors.
Proof of possible improvement exists in team stats, which reveal when the Horns take care of the ball and manage to get off a shot on most every possession, as they did in an 88-56 win over Mingus, they are tough to stop.
Against Mingus, the Horns committed just 12 turnovers — one of the lowest marks of the campaign.
But when the Horns get rattled, as they did in a 64-56 loss to Snowflake and a 65-63 defeat at Fountain Hills, the team struggles.
Against Snowflake, the Horns committed 28 turnovers, which was then a team high.
But just five days later in the loss to Fountain Hills, the Horns surpassed that mark with 31 miscues.
Sanchez is a young man, but seeing his team commit that many turnovers is sure to age him quickly.
The TO problem, as perplexing as it is, doesn’t fall on any one particular player’s shoulders as six team members will take double-digit marks into the Bradshaw tournament.
The top guns
While the Horns have struggled holding onto the ball and running their offense under pressure, several individuals have shined all season long with their quality all-around play.
Among them are Tanner Hintze, Cole Belcher, Josh Oakley and Guillermo Lopez.
Hintze, a 6-foot-4-inch junior forward, leads the team in scoring averaging 17.7 ppg.
Most of his scoring is done around the basket where rough-and-tumble antics can be the name of the game.
From two-point range, Hintze is shooting a very respectable 58 percent and has been equally as accurate from the free throw line, making 32 of 41 attempts (78 percent).
Hintze also uses his height to battle on the boards leading the Horns in rebounds with 71 retrieves or 7.9 per game.
Belcher, a 6-foot-2-inch senior forward, sprang onto the basketball scene midway last season when then-coach Bill Goodwin lauded him saying, “He’s working hard in practice and it’s beginning to show in games.”
His rapid improvement has continued this season, as he currently is the team’s second leading scorer averaging 12 ppg on 58 percent shooting.
Like Hintze, Belcher hangs out in the low blocks looking for put backs and inside shot attempts.
He too is a hard-nosed, solid rebounder averaging 6.8 per game, second on the team to Hintze. Belcher has shown ability in the early season to find open teammates, dishing out 29 assists.
Defensively, he leads the team in blocked shots with nine.
Oakley, a D-IV, Section III honorable mention pick in football, gives the Longhorns a third double-digit scorer with his 10.7 ppg average.
Oakley is also not shy about throwing it up from downtown as evidenced by his 25 three-point shot attempts, of which he has made six.
Oakley also averages 1.8 rebounds per game, has 14 steals and has been credited with 14 assists.
Lopez, the team’s starting point guard who saw last season cut short by an injury, is the team’s floor general being counted on to pull the trigger in the Longhorn offense.
He’s tied with Belcher for the team lead in assists with 29 and averages 7.3 ppg.
Lopez is also a three-point threat having hit 15 of 33 attempts from beyond the 19-foot-9-inch arc.
Defensively, Cameron Romance might be the Longhorn version of Robin Hood or Jesse James as he leads the team, far and away, with 30 steals.
Horns open vs. Perry
The Longhorns tip off pursuit of Holiday Hoops honors at 10 a.m. today vs. Gilbert Perry High School.
Because Perry is a Valley-area so called “big school,” not much is known about the team that currently sports an 8-3 record with impressive wins over Desert Ridge, 67-60, Gilbert Highland, 67-65, and Pinnacle, 68-58.
Perry is led by 6-foot-10-inch senior center Lucas O’Brien and his 17.2 ppg average. O’Brien also paces the Pumas in rebounding, averaging 8.5 a game.
If the Horns are to contain, or at least slow, Perry’s big man, they will have to keep him off the boards and perhaps double team him when he gets the ball down low.
For the tournament, both Payson and Perry have been aligned in Pool D along with Pueblo.
The three teams play one another today and will be seeded into cross-pool play tomorrow. In it, common finishers from each of the six pools, A through F, play one another.
For example, Pool A’s No. 1 finisher plays No. 1 from Pool B, No. 2 from Pool A takes on No. 2 from Pool C and so on.
The three-day tournament wraps up Dec. 29 with championship bracket play.