This share-and-share-alike program seems to rub the Valley Vikings just the right way.
Valley was inspired and unselfish, leading by as many as 17 before holding on for an 83-75 victory over No. 2 La Cueva in a District 2-5A boys basketball opener Wednesday night.
“The best passing team is usually going to win the game. I tell them that all the time,” Valley coach Joe Coleman said. “They’ve really bought into that, and they’re doing a great job of sharing it.”
Senior guard Mike Maya was the textbook example. He led all scorers with 27 points, but he also doled out eight assists.
“Mike is so good. We stood around (earlier in the season) and watched and waited for him to do things,” Coleman said. “Mike is an unselfish player, and he’ll give the ball up, but we weren’t finishing early. Mike got frustrated. As soon as the guys started playing a little better, Mike started trusting them.”
No. 7 Valley (10-7) won for the eighth time in nine games, and had the Vikings not blown a 15-point lead Jan. 7 at Manzano, it would be a nine-game winning streak.
With Wednesday’s matchup at a brisk pace that suited Valley, the Vikings used a pair of first-half runs to establish control.
The first, a 7-0 burst early in the second quarter, ended on a 3-pointer by sophomore sharpshooter Anthony Santillanes and broke a 21-all tie. The second, a 9-0 run later in the quarter, saw Valley stretch out to a 42-28 advantage just before halftime.
“That second quarter killed us,” La Cueva coach Frank Castillo said. “They were finding different ways to score. We could have had 10 guys out there and they still would have hit those shots. They were on fire.”
Valley outscored the Bears 25-13 in the second quarter.
“We’ve been playing with more confidence,” said the Eastern New Mexico-bound Maya. “When we do that, players are not scared to shoot.”
Dylan Fritsch, Ronnie Daniels and Ryan Castillo tried to keep La Cueva close in the third quarter. A three-point play by Daniels, on a nifty spin move on a drive to the basket, left the Bears with a modest deficit (54-46) near the end of the quarter.
But Valley ended the period with 3-pointers — one by Santillanes, the other by Maya who drilled his trey right in Daniels’ face as the buzzer sounded.
It was 75-58 with 3:02 remaining when things got unexpectedly interesting.
The Bears ran off 12 straight points, pulling within 75-70 with 1:28 to go. Valley turned the ball over seven times in the final two minutes, including four in the backcourt.
But the Vikes drained their free throws late, something they failed to do in the loss to Manzano. They were 13-of-16 in the fourth quarter, 25-of-31 for the game. La Cueva, by contrast, made only nine free throws.
As for the Bears (12-4), they are clearly in a bit of a rut. And while it goes unspoken, the Bears certainly are missing the services of senior guard Isaiah Howard.
Howard, a starter at the beginning of the season and a key member of last year’s state championship team, is academically ineligible, at least until the middle of next month. His absence appears to have thrown the Bears off-kilter.
They eked out overtime wins over Volcano Vista and Cibola, teams one wouldn’t expect La Cueva to have to go the distance with. The Cougars, in fact, owned a double-digit lead with two minutes left in regulation.
Castillo declined to comment on Howard, except to say that the team hopes to get him back at the end of the next grading period, which is the middle of February.
“He’s a real good player,” Maya said. “If they get him back, they’ll be a tough team to beat.”