Bronc and bull riders often endure wild and hair-raising rides as they travel the country competing on the pro rodeo circuit.
But even those challenges might not be as mentally and physically testing as the ride the Longhorn boys basketball team took Dec. 27 to 29 in the Alvarez Tire Classic held at Bradshaw Mountain High School near Prescott.
In the course of three days, the Horns took on an Alaska high school team, host Bradshaw Mountain, Tucson Pueblo and a Division I “big school” buoyed by a 6-foot-10-inch center and a hot shooting guard that was a scoring threat from any spot on the court.
That school, Gilbert Perry, easily disposed of the Horns 62-31 in the tournament opener. The Horns, however, rebounded from that loss to whip Tucson Pueblo 65-56.
Next up, the Horns fell 61-55 to the Moose of Palmer, Alaska.
Against host Bradshaw, the Horns gave the Bears all the fight they could handle before dropping a 54-51 gut-wrencher. In the tournament finale, the Horns rebounded to dump Prescott 79-68.
Prior to the game against Perry, a team many expect to make some noise in the state tournament, the Horns were set to face front line stalwart Lucas O’Brien who was averaging 16 points and more than seven rebounds a game, both team highs.
As good as O’Brien was purported to be, the Horns held him to just nine points and four rebounds.
But teammate Jordan Howard, a guard, and three-point shooting specialist, stepped up to fill the void by pouring in a game-high 19 points.
For Payson, Tanner Hintze was the team’s only double-digit scorer with 11 points. Jake Hacker tallied eight and Cole Belcher finished with four.
Ironically, the Horns outrebounded Perry 30-18, but were done in by 27 turnovers.
Against Pueblo, Payson fell behind early 13-8, but then battled back to take a 30-27 halftime lead.
The third quarter became the game’s turning point when the Horns outscored Pueblo 21-14.
Hintze had a stellar all around game with 20 points, 17 rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot. Belcher tallied 15 points and Josh Oakley contributed 10.
Point guard Guillermo Lopez was a pain in Pueblo’s backside all evening long with four of Payson’s seven steals.
Because Palmer is an Alaska high school located on a street simply known as “Arctic,” the Horns knew little about the visiting Moose.
But the lack of familiarity didn’t hamper the PHS effort early on as Payson took a 40-38 lead into the final 12 minutes. Palmer, however, froze the win by outscoring the Horns 23-15 in the final quarter.
Once again, Hintze led the team in scoring with 16 points, but Belcher wasn’t far behind with 14 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Hintze and Belcher also combined to corral 13 rebounds.
Although the Horns came up short on the scoreboard, the team turned in one of its finest playmaking efforts of the campaign committing a season-low 11 turnovers while recording 11 assists. Belcher shined on “D” with seven of the Longhorns’ 14 steals.
The clash vs. Bradshaw was a seesaw affair with the Horns jumping out to a 20-17 lead, only to see the Bears rally to take a 32-29 halftime cushion. Payson roared back to lead 45-44 going into the final quarter. The Bears, however, kept clawing away outscoring PHS 10-6 in the final minutes to take the three-point victory.
Hintze finished with 16 points and Belcher had 11 to become Payson’s only two double-digit scorers. Hintze added five rebounds, three blocks, a steal and an assist to his team leading point total.
The Longhorns return to action at 7 p.m., Jan. 3 in Wilson Dome against the Page Dust Devils.