The Clovis Wildcats are hoping to exact payback on the Hobbs Eagles tonight. But they’re also hoping to climb the Class 5A playoff ladder.
“They’re the biggest games of the year, so far,” senior guard Dexter Correll said of the upcoming stretch, which could feature up to three games in nine nights. “We need to be excellent in these games.”
At 16-9, the Wildcats hope a solid regular-season finish equals footing in 5A, where eight teams currently hold better win-loss marks than Clovis.
The top eight seeds, to be decided March 1, receive a home game for the first round of the state tournament, with later rounds March 11-14 in Albuquerque.
The Eagles, ranked second in Class 5A at 21-4, would need outside help to overtake top-ranked Manzano (24-2). But Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore said he doesn’t care about that.
“I wouldn’t like to have a low seed,” Gilmore said. “You would like to have a good enough seed where you’re not traveling — but rankings, seeds, point differentials, I don’t get caught up in it.”
But Hobbs, a winner of nine straight and 13 of its last 14, has the luxury not to pay attention. The Eagles could lose a close game to Clovis tonight, lose the district championship to Clovis eight days later and still get one of the state’s top four seeds.
Rules instituted this season guarantee a regular season district champion will not be seeded below that district’s tournament champion. Hobbs, by virtue of an 84-62 win two Fridays ago at Ralph Tasker Arena, has a 20-point advantage in the point differential department (wins are capped at 20 points to prevent teams from running up scores).
If Clovis can beat Hobbs by 20 or more, it would force a coin flip for the district’s top seed and homecourt advantage in the Feb. 28 district title game.
More likely, Clovis coach J.D. Isler said, the Wildcats will be facing third-seeded Carlsbad Tuesday night. But one or two wins over Hobbs would send a message to the seeding committee.
“We’ve beaten No. 1 (Manzano),” Isler said, “and if we can beat Hobbs, and they’re No. 2, I think that gives us a chance with the seeding process.”
To do that, Isler said the Wildcats will have to give leading scorer Jaye Crockett more touches and resist the first shot available.
“They make you take shots early, and shoot before you’re in position to rebound,” Isler said. “We’ve got to be smart and get good shots each time down.”
Correll said Hobbs plays the tempo Clovis likes, and it’s an opportunity the Wildcats can’t waste.
“It was the kind of game we wanted,” Correll said. “We just didn’t take advantage.”
Gilmore expects the Wildcats will be more comfortable at The Rock.
“I respect the world out of them,” Gilmore said. “I just know they’ll shoot the ball a lot better. They’ll play with a lot of emotion, they’ll play with a lot of confidence.”
at Clovis (16-9)
7 p.m. today
Radio: KCLV-AM 1240, KICA-FM 98.3.
Hobbs players to watch: Sr. C Juhreese Thompson (6-6, 260), Sr. F Josh Sanders (6-2, 185), Sr. F Daniel Salazar (6-3, 165)
Last matchup: Feb. 6. Salazar scored 25 to lead five Eagles in double figures, and Clovis never got closer than seven in the second half.
What 2 watch 4: Isler said the key is stopping Hobbs in transition because many Eagles are excellent finishers. … Isler was forced to sit out the Feb. 6 game after being ejected from Clovis’ previous contest at Trinity Christian in Lubbock. … Isler said the Wildcats are getting great offensive production from post Arthur Calbert (19.3 ppg over the last three contests) and guard Brian Pierson (13.8 ppg over Clovis’ last four games).
— Kevin Wilson