It was plainly obvious from the opening tip, won by point guard John Dawson, that the Clovis Wildcats have an abundance of athleticism heading into the 2011-12 campaign.
But its first-year coach is quick to note that it’s mostly raw athleticism, and it’s going to have to sometimes rely on defense and rebounding, as it did Friday in a 55-43 victory over sister city Portales.
In a game where few players shone offensively, Dawson controlled the tempo at point and was the night’s only double-figure scorer with 12 points.
“We have two kids that have played (significant) varsity basketball,” Wildcats coach Matt King said. “We have talent, but we’re young.”
In the season opener for both teams, the Rams were young as well, and stuck around despite a 7-of-23 first half thanks to three 3-pointers from sophomore Nathan Chavez.
“I was proud of my kids,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “We played with a lot of heart, a lot of tenacity.”
But the officials tightened the game up after a few hard fouls on Clovis fast breaks. The Wildcats took control with a 13-2 third-quarter run highlighted by a three-point play from Diego Romero and a trey from Drew Cole, and kept a double-digit lead the rest of the night.
“Our kids showed composure,’ King said. “They had good poise and had composure. I was really happy about that.”
The Wildcats had their troubles offensively, going 20-of-55 against the Portales defense, but strong play from junior Dijon Ford helped Clovis post a 37-23 rebounding advantage and the defense held the Rams to 14-of-44 shooting.
“We pride ourselves on having good defense,” said King, who was just as happy about Ford drawing a charge as his rebounding efforts. “When we don’t play well on offense, and we didn’t tonight, we pride ourselves on getting stops.”
The Clovis backcourt, with Dawson, D.J. Blackmon and Kamal Cass, routinely caused problems for Rams ball-handlers, who drove inside the lane just twice all night.
“A lot of it was their pressure, and our conditioning got to us,” Gallegos said. “We had a tough time getting our legs under us.”
Both coaches enjoyed the atmosphere of the game, with a significant crowd for both squads.
“People ask me why we schedule this game,” Gallegos said. “That’s why. The kids deserve to play in a game like this.”
Chavez led Portales with nine points, while Zach Campbell added eight. Cass and Cole each scored eight for the Wildcats.
Both teams are back in action on Tuesday, and both on the road, as the Rams face Roswell High while Clovis visits Plainview.