At the very least, it’s been a long time since Clovis High and La Cueva have met in boys basketball during the regular season.
They’re becoming familiar opponents, though, in postseason play.
The Wildcats (20-9), seeded fifth in the Class 5A boys state basketball tournament, will face fourth-seeded La Cueva (22-7) at The Pit in Albuquerque for the third consecutive season in a 1:15 p.m. quarterfinal matchup today.
La Cueva upended the Cats 62-60 in the 2007 quarterfinals, while the Cats returned the favor with a 79-66 victory in last year’s semifinals.
While Clovis brings a seven-game winning streak into the contest, the Bears are also playing some of their best basketball of the season, veteran coach Frank Castillo said.
“I think we’re playing pretty well right now,” said Castillo, who has been on the job since the school opened in 1986. “We’re sharing the ball on offense, and defensively we always try to play good ball.”
The Cats, who scored an 80-69 first-round win over Alamogordo on Saturday at Rock Staubus Gym, believe they’re peaking at the right time and are hoping for a long stay in Albuquerque.
Senior guard Stefan Mills noted he and several of his teammates have played in The Pit in the past, and thus should go in relatively relaxed.
“I just think with us being a big senior group, we shouldn’t be that intimidated,” Mills said. “We’re playing our best basketball right now, and we feel we can beat anybody.”
Last season’s glorious run for the Cats ended in disappointment when they lost to District 4-5A rival Hobbs 73-71 in the finals, finishing off a 29-2 season.
This year’s squad started more slowly, but the players appear to have grown into their roles behind 6-foot-7 senior post Jaye Crockett.
“I think we’re playing as well as anybody going into the tournament, and that’s what you want,” Cats coach J.D. Isler said. “I think we match up good (with La Cueva). They may be a little quicker, but I think we’re a little stronger inside.”
Isler expects the Bears to try to take away Crockett, as most teams attempt to do, but it’s become harder late in the season with the improved play of 6-5 senior Arthur Calbert and 6-8 junior Logan Turnbow inside and senior guard Bryan Pierson outside.
“I think we make it pretty difficult for teams to take Jaye out of the game,” Isler said.
“You’ve got to put three good games together now. I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence.”
Isler and Castillo think several teams have a chance to take home the blue trophy.
“Hopefully, it’ll be another close, well-fought game,” Castillo said. “I think anybody can win the tournament.”