Although the Mancos High School boys basketball team has displayed plenty of offensive firepower this season, it was the team’s lockdown defense that carried it to a 62-35 victory in Dolores on Feb. 5.
Utilizing a 1-3-1 zone most of the night, the Bluejays forced turnovers and held the Bears scoreless for long stretches, including much of an 8-minute stretch during the second quarter during which Dolores scored just six points.
“I told (our team) yesterday, we’re not always going to make shots, but that can’t dictate how we play in other aspects of the game,” Mancos head coach Elijah Knepper said. “We didn’t make a ton of shots, but we let our defense create some things for us, and that paid big dividends.”
Among the features of the Bluejays’ 1-3-1 zone that caused the most difficulty for Dolores was the length of Mancos senior Vassar Stephens, whose length consistently bothered Bears guards and forced numerous steals.
Also contributing to Dolores’ difficulties was the team’s inability to collect rebounds on either end of the floor, which led to a wide discrepancy between the two teams in the number of second-chance points.
“We need to improve on rebounding, not turning the ball over, and running the offense like it’s supposed to be executed,” Dolores head coach Larry Schwartz said. “We had too many turnovers and not enough rebounds. That was the story of the game.”
While Mancos’ defense starred on one end of the floor, Bluejays Hunter Hoover played a lead role on other end of the court while scoring eight of his team’s 10 points during a first quarter that ended with Mancos leading 10-8.
Hoover and junior Caden Showalter continued to dominate down low in the second quarter and after numerous offensive rebounds and several layups, Mancos opened up a 29-15 halftime lead. Hoover ended up with 14 points overall, and Showalter scored 12.
“We were able to pierce their defense and get behind them and hit the posts,” Hoover said. “It was working well for me to pick up the scraps and get the dish-outs.”
With the game in hand throughout much of the second half, Mancos looked to Stephens to provide a scoring punch, and the senior delivered with 12 of his team-high 20 points over the final 16 minutes.
Among Stephens’ most impressive plays was a highlight-reel dunk that came after Christian Cova threw the ball off the backboard to Stephens, who hammered the ball through the rim with two hands as the crowd gasped.
Several bench players, including junior Anthony Medina and freshman Chase Moore, also made key plays for Mancos as the duo known for their exploits on the football field each scored six points.
“We try to go in there and help our team as much as we can,” Moore said. “We just try to play our roles.”
Dolores was led in scoring by star senior Tristan Swagerty, who scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds. Dakota Smith scored six points, and William Swagerty and Neil Farias each scored four for the Bears.
With its record now at 8-9 overall and 4-6 in the San Juan Basin League, Dolores will prepare for a road matchup against Telluride on Feb. 9. Mancos will put its 10-5 overall record and 7-1 SJBL record on the line when it travels to face Nucla on Feb. 7.
“We’re just focused on getting better every day,” said Knepper, when asked about his team’s upcoming match up. “We’re not taking anybody lightly.”