The basketball season is just a few weeks old, but the teams in District 1-4A are starting to round into form, and if Saturday’s Farmington-Piedra Vista game is any evidence of what’s to come, then February will be a wild ride to decide a district champ.
FHS made an early statement with a 67-61 victory over the Panthers in the third-place game of the Marv Sanders Invitational, in which the Scorpions overcame an 11-point deficit at the start of the fourth quarter.
In the final eight minutes, the Scorps played the exact type of basketball that will make them a threat for the district crown.
FHS put the ball in the hands of Matt Huffhines and Josh Miller-Castillo and proceeded to attack the basket time after time, racking up fouls on PV and earning trips to the free-throw line.
Huffhines, Miller-Castillo and Kyle Reynolds are all capable of hitting jump shots, but FHS coach Paul Corley doesn’t want his team settling on offense.
“We want those guys to drive, penetrate and kick it out,” Corley said.
The FHS attack stalled out in Friday’s loss to Gallup when the Scorps simply swung the ball around the perimeter and fired up jumpers. Only Huffhines was able to score in double-digits against the Bengals.
Corley has repeatedly said that he wants to get four guys with 10 points or more and that the drive-and-kick game will create the ball movement necessary to balance out the FHS offense.
For the opening three quarters of the game against Farmington, PV looked like the superior team. The Panthers locked down the Scorps on defense and were able to create open looks for their own perimeter players.
PV let the lead slip away on the defensive side in the final quarter because of its inability to contain the dribble penetration of the Scorps.
Offensively, the Panthers struggled in the second half when FHS collapsed on Ty Jaquez. With Jacob Armijo sidelined with an ankle injury, PV didn’t have a secondary option.
Jaquez and Armijo are two of the top four or five players in the district and give PV the one-two punch to claim a district title and make a run in the state tournament, but the Panthers will need other contributions to accomplish those goals.
PV is expecting the third component to be transfer forward Shanahan Wilson.
“He is an upgrade over anything we have at that spot,” said PV head coach Adam Huff.
Wilson looked rusty in his season debut against the Scorps after having to sit out the first eight games this year and all of last season because of transfer rules, but his strength and athleticism will benefit PV on both ends of the floor.
Defending district champ and state semifinalist Kirtland Central is having some early ups and downs as the team tries to replace most of the players around star center Christian Mackey.
Mackey can be penciled in for a double-double nearly every time the Broncos take the floor but, outside of the junior, Kirtland has struggled to find consistent offense.
Opposing defenses are well aware of Mackey’s ability to dominate a game in the paint and have been consistently double and triple teaming him. So far, the Kirtland guards have been unable to hit jumpers with any regularity to help free the big man up.
“When you play against teams sitting back in a zone, focusing on Mackey, you have to make open 3’s,” said Bronco head coach John Zecca.
Kirtland is the best team in the district on defense and at controlling the boards, so its chances of repeating as district champs will hinge on the 3-point shooting.
Aztec ‘s season got off to a late start due to football, but the Tigers have opened by winning three of their first four games.
The team has been able to hit shots from the outside but hasn’t converted its chances around the basket. If the Tigers can make baskets in the paint, then head coach Jody Christman thinks his team will be able to score with anyone in the district.
“We are leaving points at the front of the rim. If we can convert there, we are going to be able to score a lot of points,” Christman said.
On paper, PV appears to be the favorites to come out on top in February if Armijo, Jaquez and Wilson can gel, but Farmington and Kirtland are close behind.
Luckily, these teams still have five weeks before the district season to start firing on all cylinders and, as Saturday’s game showed, basketball is not played on paper.