With a season-high six-game winning streak going, and five of those wins by double figures, it’s no stretch to say the Clovis Wildcats are playing their best basketball of the season.
But, as the 2008 Class 5A state runnerup hosts 12th-seeded Alamogordo for a chance to return to Albuquerque, it’s obvious the Wildcats (19-9) wouldn’t have gotten to this point without learning from their worst basketball of the season.
It’s been day and night the last two seasons at Clovis. The experience-ladened 2008 team ripped off 26 consecutive victories to start the season and finished 29-2. The team that replaced it had seven first-time varsity members and started the season 3-3.
“I felt like this team could get back to the state tournament,” eighth-year coach J.D. Isler said. “My concern was how good we were going to be early because we lost so much leadership. That held true. “
Indeed. The Wildcats didn’t do themselves any favors by scheduling seven games in their first nine days. That meant little time to learn from mistakes, and the inexperience showed as the team went 2-5 in games decided by 10 points or less.
There were certainly highlights, as the Wildcats upended top-ranked Manzano in the semifinals of the Gallup Invitational, then took the second-seeded Bengals to the final minute in the title game.
With the successes came disappointments. Senior Dustin Williams said said small mistakes would keep the Wildcats from finishing matters.
“We were our own worst enemy,” the 6-foot-5 forward said. “We were turning it over, taking bad shots.”
The Wildcats reached a breaking point Feb. 6 at Ralph Tasker Arena, as rival Hobbs controlled the District 4-5A opener from the opening tip and took an 84-62 victory.
It put Clovis at 13-9 and in danger of being a road team once the 16-team state tournament was seeded.
“It may have woken them up and made them realize they were running out of games,” said Isler, who was ejected in the Wildcats’ previous game and couldn’t coach against Hobbs. “We’ve got eight seniors this year ... they made up their minds they were going to salvage this thing.”
That’s when the Wildcats stopped turning the ball over. They started hitting free throws. And they got more double-figure scorers to complement Texas Tech signee Jaye Crockett, who has averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds for Clovis.
And two weeks after their blowout loss to Hobbs, the Wildcats had a blowout win over Hobbs, 78-63. And then a week later, Clovis left Ralph Tasker with a 54-49 win. They were rewarded with Class 5A’s No. 5 seed.
In what looks like a wide-open field, the Wildcats are pretty sure it’s not a matter of who’s ranked on top, but which team can somehow string together four straight wins.