Jeff Reed was surprised Cibola was seeded 11th in the 16-team Class 5A tournament field.
He said that before the Cougars won at No. 6 Las Cruces High 51-45 in a first-round game on Friday. Now Reed’s red-hot Lady Wildcats (24-4), winners of 15 in a row and 20 of 21, get a crack at them in a 9:45 a.m. quarterfinal game today at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
“I think they should’ve been in the top 10, maybe top eight,” Reed said Monday as the third-seeded Lady Cats prepared to leave for the Albuquerque area. “They get after you with man-to-man on defense.”
Cibola finished second in District 1-5A behind top-ranked Rio Rancho and ahead of West Mesa, a team the Lady Cats dispatched 66-50 in Friday’s opening round.
While Clovis likes to pressure on defense and push the tempo, Cibola is more deliberate with a relatively short bench.
“(Fellow district foe) Gallup and Rio Rancho both played zone against them,” Reed said, hinting he might use some of the same strategy. “Our key thing is to get them to miss those outside shots, and then not let them have second chances.”
Cibola (17-12) is similar to West Mesa in athleticism, but has much more height. Reed describes 5-foot-10 junior forward Korina Chapman as “a bruiser,” while 6-3 senior post Zalike Dyson has already sign with the University of Houston.
Sophomore guard Amber Battle, an athletic player Reed compares to his own Ashlee Pierson, leads Cibola in scoring at around 13 points a game.
Cougars coach Lori Stephenson, who played basketball under Wayne Moore at Eastern New Mexico University from 1988-90, said she sees a lot of similarities between the Lady Cats and her team.
“They’re very athletic,” she said of Clovis. “The key is to shut down (junior post) Antiesha Brown, but they also have some good 3-point shooters.
“I’m expecting a close game. I have a lot of respect for Clovis, and we’re going to have to play hard to win.”
Brown and senior guard Brittany Johnson were key members of the 2006-07 Lady Cats who reached the 5A finals before losing to Mayfield 61-42.
“The only thing that’s keeping me calm right now is that I’ve been in this situation before,” Brown said. “That year, we played in front of the Gallup crowd (in posting a semifinal win); if you can do that, you can probably handle anything.”
Playing at the Star Center isn’t like playing at The Pit, but Brown said the players will have to adjust to the arena-like conditions.
“It’s nowhere near as big as The Pit, but it can still hold a lot of people,” Brown said. “I think (playing there) may help us work our way up to The Pit.”
Reed said the tournament is wide open.
“You could flip a quarter (to pick a winner),” he said. “I’m expecting a lot of close games. Predicting this thing would be tough.”