t’s been a big week for the Sand Devils’ boys basketball team as they finished the regular season, winning two out of the last three games on the road. They finished the 3A North regional schedule with a win-loss record of 7-3 and a No. 2 ranking and a No. ten state conference ranking with an overall record of 18-6.
The first of the last three game was in Gilbert, Arizona, where they dominated the American Leadership Academy Eagles last Tuesday 61-37 in a non-conference matchup.
On Friday, the Sand Devils contended for a second-round seed for the state playoffs when they played against the Chinle Wildcats, in what was supposed to be the best rival game of the season. The Sand Devils took the first half lead by as much as 22 points in their usual gangbuster fashion. But in the second half, in what could have been a scripted version of the prior game against the Wildcats, the free throw line became the Wildcats’ best friend.
After the half, the Sand Devils gained a remarkable 29-point lead and then the Wildcats started to chip away at the point spread. By the end of the third quarter, the Wildcats tied the game. By mid fourth quarter everyone was prepared for overtime. However, the referees did not see it that way giving the Sand Devils 18 total fouls. Chinle, with two minutes left, then sewed up the win by sinking the last four free throws of the night. The Wildcats retained their 10-0 win-loss record with winning 54-46.
The Sand Devils did not give up their effort to gain a seed-in at the state playoffs yet with one regional game left against the Ganado Hornets.
During Saturday’s game the Sand Devils secured their names on the state tournament bracket when they traveled to Ganado in their last regional game of the season. The game brought a tight man-to-man defense from the Hornets, which gave the Sand Devils a good workout. But try as they might the Hornets still had trouble landing much needed shots.
The Hornets would prove to have a worthy defense and a good three-point shooter but by the end of the first half the Sand Devil’s had the lead by almost 30 points. The whole Sand Devil’s bench got a chance to put their name on the stat sheets in the final game of the regular season. The final score was 74-54 and the Sand Devils advance to the 3A regional playoffs.
Head coach Russ Skubal says they have only one goal in mind before moving on to the state playoffs.
“We want to win the championship,” Skubal said. “We want to come out with the trophy and bring it home.”
The Wildcats, in the regional tournament, will be the biggest opponents and the Sand Devils are currently working out some of the problems they struggled with on Friday.
“We need to stop fouling. We made a lot of silly fouls instead of using fundamental defense and boxing out and that put them at the free throw line,” Skubal said. “We had eight fouls on them with 5 minutes to go and they didn’t commit any. We made bad shots, didn’t attack and there was another reason [we lost] that is neither here nor there. We have got to learn how to finish games and we are struggling with that and right now we’re working on it.”
The Sand Devils finish out the scheduled season ranked No. 2 in the 3A North region and advanced to the second round of the 3A North Regional Tournament on Feb. 8. They will play the winner of the Window Rock versus Ganado game on Friday at Ganado High, at 4:30 p.m. The final round will be played at Window Rock High on Saturday. The winners and times will be announced.
Currently, the Sand Devils are ranked No. 10 in the state, but that could change when the final rankings are posted next week.
Skubal adds they are working on fine tuning their game strategy, “Were preparing like we’re (going to) play from the ten spot. We might have to play a game early then get on the road to make it to the (stadium). We are doing our homework on everybody. We’re (trying) to be prepared for any situation.”