By Greg Selber

Dec. 22, 2020

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This one was hard to put away because even though the Coogs led the entire way, the P-SJ-A Bears just kept on battling, grinding to the free throw line on an aggressive afternoon that would yield a whopping 65 total foul shots.

Needing the victory to stay in the District 31-6A hunt after a 1-3 beginning, North managed to come away with a 59-54 win Tuesday thanks to the hustle of seniors Ethan Garza and Aaron Gonzalez and the improving talents of sophomore Eddie Gonzalez, among others.

After the Bears had come from behind to tie the game at 52 late in the day, the Coogs got a clutch three-pointer from sophomore Christian Faz and at the wire, Gonzalez and Garza contributed free throws to cap a 20-for-25 showing from the line. A narrow result, but a result nonetheless, as the 6-7 Gonzalez swatted away six shots and North rose to 2-3 in league ahead of a pending road match at winless Juarez-Lincoln.

“This was a big win that we needed,” said Coach Rudy Garcia after the final buzzer. “The Bears are not much for threes but they attack the basket and try and get free throws, that’s their game. We bent today but we didn’t break, which is getting to be a habit of ours this season.”


The referees were busy as bees all game long, calling more than 50 fouls, and North’s accuracy at the line may have been the difference, as the Bears went just 23 of 40. Though the Coogs had periods of poor shot selection – some wild and fruitless drives to the basket – and turnover trouble down the stretch as the Bears pressed to get back into it, the home side held serve for its second win in a row, following a defeat of EHS last week.

Aaron Gonzalez, whose breakneck style is always fun to watch, ended with a season-best 19 points to pave the way, as North led 21-12 after a quarter. Faz had slipped in a long one at the buzzer to end the period, and Garcia’s crew was on a roll. With the shorter Gonzalez pumping in eight in the second, the Coogs were up 33-25 at the half, as Eddie Gonzalez continued to hold sway underneath.

“When I was at Sharyland we had some big kids like Eddie,” Garcia explained. “And I was always telling the refs: big guys will block shots, get rebounds over other kids, and a lot of times it’s not a foul. Eddie is coming along, he’s got a good stroke and he is getting stronger in the middle.”

In that second period, forward Garza was active with six rebounds, and though he would not score much Tuesday, the senior was definitely a plus in the effort.

“He’s athletic and he gets a bunch of boards,” Garcia said in praise of the soft-spoken senior. “I think he can score more, too, if he will be more aggressive on offense.”

Senior Ethan Gomez knocked down a trey in the third for North, which carved out a 13-point lead at one point before settling for a 48-38 edge heading into the money period. At one point, Garza was brilliant with a defensive rebound and outlet to Aaron Gonzalez, who scored at the other end. He followed that with a smart tip of a loose ball to Faz. Garza is long and agile, with a trusty compass for the ball.

The 13-point advantage mentioned earlier came via a pretty reverse layup by Gomez, just after Faz and senior Aaron Lopez had combined to force a Bear turnover in the halfcourt trap.

“Aaron has become better at handling the ball, and driving,” Garcia noted. “Last year he was more one-dimensional, he’s a really good shooter, and it is good to see him using his quickness this season with the ball.”

The Coogs also got some helpful moments from junior Anthony Thomas, a spindly 6-footer who transferred in from Houston.

“He’s a new guy, and he has some skills,” Garcia said. “We are going to be counting on him for next year, but he’s already given us a spark at times since he’s joined the team.”

Thomas had seven points Tuesday, hitting an early three and a nice driving deuce before fouling out late. Lopez, who had 17 against EHS, added 10 against the Bears, hitting two of the team’s seven three-balls. 

Seemingly in command with a 52-42 lead in the fourth, the Gold and Blue lost some control and had to fight through miscues to come out right. The pesky Bears, now 1-5 in league, ran off 10 in a row to tie the match with two minutes left before Faz connected from downtown and then made one of two from the stripe after a steal, for a 56-52 bulge. Big Eddie came up with yet another block but the Coogs coughed it up at the other end. With 31 seconds left he altered a P-SJ-A shot into a miss and Garza grabbed it. Seconds later, though, up 3, the Coogs misfired on a one-and-one and down came the Bears, seeking to tie. They missed and post Gonzalez corralled the rebound, converting one of two from the line at 0:10. 

Trailing 57-53, the Bears then got to the line and made the first; when they opted to miss the second one on purpose, Garza was cat-like to the board, and made two subsequent charity tosses to wrap it up.

NOTES: North is now 6-6 overall and as said, 2-3 in 31-6A ahead of the Lincoln clash Saturday. After that comes a huge road game at Econ Jan. 5 followed by a home chance against Mission three days later to wrap up the first half of district play. The Coogs begin the second part of the slate Jan. 12 at Vela. 

Aaron Gonzalez now has 57 points in five district games, and Tuesday’s 19-point effort topped the 18 he put on Vela in the opener. Lopez has now hit at least one bomb in all five 31-6A outings. The down note from the Coog camp is that senior Jacob Paez will be sidelined for the remainder of the campaign with an ankle injury.

Econ remained unbeaten at 5-0 with a 66-59 win at Pharr North Tuesday while Vela defeated Mission by 20 to climb to 3-2. EHS (0-5) will try to get on the good foot with a game against P-SJ-A Jan. 2.

In girls’ action to start the week, EHS beat Rio Grande City at home in a non-district bout, and is now 5-0, 9-3 ahead of Thursday’s home game with La Joya. Saturday is going to be big for the Lady Bobcats as they welcome a one-loss P-SJ-A quintet to town. Prior to that outing the club had been idle for 14 days. Vela is 5-3 in district after beating Mission Tuesday, by 17 while Econ (1-6) was dropped by Pharr North.

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