Lady Tigers open district play Tuesday against Miyamura

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AZTEC — The younger players on the Aztec girls basketball team have had their share of rough times over the last year and a half.

They were basically thrown into the fire against tough competition, and they had to adjust to the team’s motion offense quickly. But now they’re coming along, taking more chances and being smarter with their shot selections. After winning five of its last six games, Aztec (7-9) looks to prolong that momentum entering district play.

“We’ve been improving each game, so I don’t expect anything less,” point guard Jessi Gillentine said.

This swift change began with the squad finishing the Hobbs Holiday Tournament on a strong note, enduring a rather hostile environment at Tasker Arena.

Despite dropping its first two games, Aztec topped Roswell to wrap up consolation play.

“If you can handle (that environment), you can handle any environment in the state,” coach Robert McCaskill said. “Just the confidence that they have in themselves is helping them on the offensive end and the defensive end.”

Although the Lady Tigers are averaging just 43.7 points per game during that six-game span, some things are working out for the better. They’re staying in games more frequently behind solid outside shooting.

“They do seem to come in clutch (moments) toward the end of games and when we really need them. And they do give our team a lot of momentum to win,” Gillentine said. “For the most part, the majority of my teammates are really confident with their outside shots. Whenever we’re open, even when we’re contested, we’ll take them. It’s been working well for us.”

McCaskill said his players are more relaxed running the offense whenever they’re knocking down shots, but he’s also trying to keep them relaxed whenever those shots may not go in.

And with district play just around the corner, starting 7 p.m. Tuesday at home against Miyamura, the turnaround has become that much more important for Aztec.

“It’s the hardest district in the state. We have powerhouses throughout our district,” McCaskill said.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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