Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sixth-ranked Eagles' conditioning, pace wearing out opponents

Brad Cox/News-Sun
Hobbs' Austin Montoya drives during a game
earlier this season at Tasker Arena.
  The sixth-ranked Hobbs boys basketball team clung to a 42-40 lead heading into the second half against unranked Carlsbad on Friday at Caveman Gym.
  But there was no worry on the faces of the Eagles as they came out for the second half. There was just a look (dare I say, a swagger) that they believed all the work put in during the summer and fall to play 32 minutes of fast-paced, pressing basketball was going to bring them home down the stretch.
  It did as the Eagles outscored the Cavemen 51-26 in the second half on their way to a 93-66 victory, moving Hobbs to 3-0 in District 4-5A and its winning streak to seven.
  The up-tempo style that won the Eagles a New Mexico-best 16 state titles has fully returned with first-year Hobbs coach Mike Smith and reenergized a proud program while leaving opponents gasping for air and exhausted.
  It's been a process returning to this philosophy with bumps and bruises along the way. There were early losses against teams such as Faith Christian of El Paso, Odessa Permian and El Paso Bowie where the press looked harmless and turned games into glorified layup lines for the opposition.
  Hobbs has learned from those tough defeats. The Eagles have developed depth. I look back at those losses and wonder what the outcome would be if they played those teams today. Heck, Hobbs looks like a different team than just a month ago when the Eagles went on the road and were incredibly flat against No. 1 Las Cruces in an 87-66 loss.
  The Eagles are streaking just at the right time, winning seven games in a row by an average of 23.1 points per game. This run, in which Hobbs is averaging 90.3 points per game, includes a 24-point win over Class 4A No. 1 Goddard and a 10-point win over No. 8 and rival Clovis in Clovis.
  Nobody in the state plays at the Eagles' pace, which has to worry any team facing Hobbs from here on out – particularly when the state playoffs begin.
  Hobbs leads the state in scoring at 78.8 points per game, nearly 10 points more than the second-highest scoring team in Class 5A (Eldorado at 69.4).
  Those are the only two teams in 5A scoring more than 62 points per game.
  Hobbs' average margin of victory of 12.2 is the highest in 5A, followed closely by top-ranked Las Cruces.
  It's all due to Hobbs' tempo and pressure. If the Eagles dictate their will and pace upon opponents, very few can keep up. When teams fatigue in the second half, Hobbs pounces upon that weakness and builds a lead. When opponents fall behind, they start to feel as if they have to play fast to catch up with the Eagles – playing right into Hobbs' up-tempo philosophy.
  Now it all leads up to the Eagles hosting Clovis on Friday for a chance to win District 4-5A outright (assuming Clovis takes care of business Tuesday at home against Carlsbad). In Clovis, Hobbs used its press to outscore the Wildcats 22-6 in the second quarter but eased off a bit in the second half and took time off the clock to preserve a 78-68 win.
  Clovis, which lost to 4A No. 2 Roswell High 76-74 on Friday, can't run up and down with the Eagles for 32 minutes. The Wildcats just don't have the depth (though junior guards John Dawson and DJ Blackmon are very dangerous in the open floor).
  If Hobbs dictates the pace and can get the score in the 80s and above, the Eagles win. If Clovis can slow it down, keep the game in the 60s or below, the Wildcats win.
  If it's in the 70s - anyone's game.