Inconsistency, time dooms Cougars
It was a bad omen.
The Alamo Navajo girls basketball team took only eight players with it to the American Indian Classic. And after whipping Pine Hill Wednesday, the Cougars faced an 8 a.m. tip time in the semifinals.
The Cougars shook off a sluggish start to build an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead over Bernalillo’s junior varsity only to see their energy reservoir drain and their lead dwindle in the waning minutes of Thursday’s contest. Out of steam, the Cougars fell 54-52, losing out on an opportunity to win their second straight tournament this season.
Head coach Chee Apachito didn’t want to use the early tip as an excuse, but acknowledged it had an impact on his team — more so because of the paucity of substitutions he made. More or less, the Cougars played their five starters the entire way.
“It totally threw us off,” Apachito said. “But I can’t complain. A game is a game. When it’s time to play, we should be ready.”
Alamo took on Tse Yi Gai in Friday’s third-place game, but results weren’t available at Chieftain press time.
Fatigue was a non-issue in Alamo’s opening game, partly because Pine Hill resembled General Lee at Appomattox. Finding itself down 40-4, it peacefully surrendered. Behind Dustine Abeyta’s 34 points, the Cougars rolled 59-13.
But Thursday was tough sledding, and Bernalillo took advantage of Alamo’s shallow bench.
The Cougars had only one true ball handler in point guard Tiyanna Ganadonegro, but still handled Bernalillo’s full-court pressure with considerable composure. A 12-2 run helped the Cougars open a 43-34 lead, but Bernalillo outscored the Cougars 16-5 over the final 4:47.
Abeyta had a chance to tie at the end. Alamo inbounded to Abeyta, who dribbled past a pair of Spartan defenders. But she settled for, and clanged, a contested 15-foot baseline jumper, and the Spartans advanced to the finals.
“I was trying to get to the middle and make my way to the basket,” Abeyta said. “If I drove in, I would have bumped my teammate, so I just kinda stayed back.”
The last 50 seconds had more drama than a TNT original series.
Bernalillo’s Jasmine Jaramillo completed a furious comeback by converting one of two free throws to tie the game at 51-all with 1:47 left. Abeyta then drove coast-to-coast, drawing a foul, but she too converted only one of her free throws to give the Cougars a one-point edge.
The Spartans went down the court and scored, and Abeyta was called for a charging foul on the other end. The Cougars allowed 33 seconds to run off the clock before fouling Mary Lou Baca, who saw one of her free throws rim out. She missed her second attempt, but the Spartans retained possession, and after a foul Baca went back to the line.
Again, she’d make only one, but Abeyta’s jumper couldn’t find its mark.
Down the stretch, the Cougars were physically spent. Abeyta said not having serviceable replacements took its toll. At one juncture, Apachito called a timeout just to allow his girls to rest. They stood hunched over, gasping for air.
Bernalillo’s double team didn’t appear to drain Abeyta, but she didn’t have her typical spunk on that lost shot attempt, front-ending it off the rim.
Harassed all day, she managed only 14 first-half points compared to 28 Wednesday. The Cougars were buoyed by Shinera Apache’s unexpected performance. She scored 11 points in the first half to give Alamo a slight edge heading into intermission.
Abeyta then came alive in the second half, pumping in 17 points. But inopportune turnovers and shaky free-throw shooting conspired to damn the Cougars.
“At least we made it this far,” Abeyta said. “We’ll keep pushing and keep our heads up.”
The Alamo Navajo boys basketball team’s first two games of the American Indian Classic were a snapshot of what has bogged down its season.
Head coach Raymond Apachito doesn’t know which team will show up. And even if the rock stars make an appearance, there’s no telling when, like Elvis, they’ll leave the building.
The fickle Cougars were lucky to get to the next round after blowing a 30-point lead against Walatowa on Wednesday. Their luck ran out Thursday. To’Hajiilee zoomed up and down the court, as the flummoxed Cougars couldn’t keep pace, falling 65-46 in the semifinals of the American Indian Classic.
Alamo (4-4) faced Shiprock Northwest at Bernalillo High School in Friday’s third-place game. Results weren’t available at Chieftain press time.
On Wednesday, Kaland Secatero’s shot in the final 15 seconds of overtime saved Alamo from a mind-bending implosion. But the bombs promptly went off Thursday. The Warriors went on a 19-2 streak, turning a somewhat-competitive contest into a in a 31-point deficit.
“I don’t know what happened,” Apachito said. “The boys didn’t do what they were supposed to do until the second half when they woke up.”
The Cougars weren’t just asleep in the first half; they were hibernating.
Their offense lacked fluidity. They looked like kamikazes driving the lane, throwing up an array of circus and off-balanced shots.
They started 5-of-18 from the field. Many of those shots led to transition points for To’Hajiilee. On the other end, the Cougars’ defense was Swiss cheese.
To’Hajiilee’s Seth Watuema hit a trey before the first-quarter buzzer sounded. That sucked the oxygen out of the Santa Ana Star Center, and the life out of the Cougars.
They had only two second-quarter field goals, a flurry of To’Hajiilee layups propelling the Warriors to a sizeable advantage. The Warriors converted a traditional 3-point play to cap the run. At one point, they led by 33 points, and by intermission, the Cougars looked lifeless.
Apachito didn’t even take his team to the locker room, instead having them huddle around him as he tried to coax them into competing.
The Cougars were never really in it, but at least looked somewhat recharged in the second half. Guard Elijahwon Apachito hit a pair of 3-pointers in the last minute and a half to make the score respectable. He finished with 14 points. Center Melcom Thomas had 10 points.
Mixed together, Apachito said, fatigue and playing on such a big stage proved to be a dangerous cocktail. The wide-eyed guard was probably awestruck at the size of the Santa Ana Star Center, because the Cougars have never made the state tournament, let alone made it far enough to play at the Pit.
“We just need to communicate and stay together as a team,” he said.
Apachito, the head coach, said it goes deeper than that: The Cougars’ play is as volatile as the stock market.
“We need to play the same,” he said. “They want to change it every time they play a different team. They want to do it their way. I don’t know why they get out of their game, but they play according to the other team.”
-- Email the author at email@example.com.