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MAN UP: NORTH DEFENSE HAS KEYED 5-GAME WIN STREAK; LATEST CAGE VICTORY COMES AT VELA TUESDAY

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Jan. 12, 2021

By Greg Selber

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It is a basketball truism that playing a zone defense can be effective, but sometimes your kids can get complacent or lazy in it. Going man, as used to be the case for many generations of hardwood action, ensures that through necessity, players will be hustling and working. North has proven this old saw to have teeth yet, as during a recent 4-game winning streak, it had come out of the zone to pick up the opponents mano a mano, so to say.

“With man, you have to work hard, because you’re out on an island and everyone can see you,” said Coach Rudy Garcia, directly after his club dispatched Vela, 52-48 Tuesday in an entertaining Rivalry Game to begin the second half of the District 31-6A season. “In the zone you can sort of hide, and sometimes there is confusion, like, ‘I got him, no, you got him,’ and the player goes right through both. We have been working on getting better defensively and that is one of the keys to why we have been playing better, I think, the man to man.”

No doubt that the Coogs, now 5-3 in league after a distressing 0-3 start, have been D’ing up with force these days. With rangy senior Ethan Garza using his length to harass the Vela guards up front – Vela did the same thing with 6-3 Jacob Rodriguez often up top on one of the North backcourt men – the opportunities to connect from downtown were few and far between. In fact, in this back-and-forth scrap, each team made just three three-point shots, choosing to attack the man/hands-on defense they saw with drives to the hoop, plus the occasional kickout. In that sense, the game resembled the way basketball used to look before the three-point shot came into being in high school, in the late 1980s. Vela did switch in and out of man Tuesday night.

It was North that was able to convert more of its forays to the rack, as senior Ethan Gomez, getting extended minutes with the absence of classmate Aaron Lopez (ankle), and sophomore Christian Faz made ample use of the dribble-drive penetration. Gomez ignored his own recent illness to chip in 11 enormous points and Faz had six more; the performance of those two was huge on a night when North was whistled for more than 20 fouls, eventually losing point guard Aaron Gonzalez and rejuvenated power forward Jacob Paez to disqualification.

The first time these two met, Dec. 8 at North, the Coogs were dynamite in the first period but faded after that, dropping a 62-43 decision. The rematch was a puncher’s dream, with the rivals trading shots and neither gaining more than a 4-point lead all night. It came down to free throws, and Vela (4-5, lost three straight now) was poor, missing six of eight down the stretch. North, nine for nine, got two tosses from Garza at 0:05 to clinch its fifth straight W.

IN YOUR FACE, BOY

Coming in, Coach Lucio Rodriguez of Vela was a bit perturbed at his team’s inability to keep a lead, noting that inexperience in such situations had led to close defeats to Econ and La Joya, after the SaberCats had led late in both tilts. Unfortunately, Tuesday was to offer more of the same.

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