Cats face scrappy Vikings

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Clovis High boys basketball coach J.D. Isler believes his team plays better at a fast pace.

In that case, tonight’s first-round game of the Class 5A state tournament game at Valley figures to be a battle of tempo.

Seeded eighth in the 16-team Class 5A state tournament, Valley (18-8) prefers a slower tempo. Most of its games are played in the 50s and 60s.

“They’re not a high-scoring team; they’re more of a ball-control type of team,” Isler said. “I think it’s really important we make sure the tempo is up-and-down. I think it helps our offensive flow if we can get the tempo of the game up.”

The winner of tonight’s first-round contest advances to next week’s quarterfinals in Albuquerque.

The Albuquerque-based Vikings finished third in five-team District 2-5A and was eliminated from the district tournament on its home floor by fourth-place Sandia 47-44. Most of the Valley’s games, especially in the second half of the season, have been decided by just a few points.

Isler hasn’t seen Valley, but he’s talked to a number of coaches about the Vikings.

“They all say the same thing — they’re very scrappy,” he said. “They just kind of make the game ugly and try to win it at the end.”

The District 4-5A regular-season champion, Clovis lost to Hobbs 66-59 in Saturday’s tournament championship game at Rock Staubus Gym.

The Cats (16-9) hope to erase the bad taste in their mouths from last week’s loss to Hobbs.

“If we can win (tonight), we’ll be in good shape,” said senior post Devin Sweet, who collected 17 points and 11 rebounds against Hobbs. “At state, both teams have to adjust to The Pit.”

“Coach said (Valley is) a lot like Hobbs. They like to penetrate and kick out for the 3. They try to spread you out like Hobbs and beat you to the basket.”

Isler said Valley’s top players are 6-foot-3 senior guard Travis Vigil and 6-3 junior post Chris Voller. Isler said Vigil plays a slashing style on offense.

“I feel like we match up pretty well with them,” Isler said. “I told the kids, ‘We’ve just got to do our stuff better than they do their stuff.’

“They’re not real big, and it presents a challenge because our big guys are going to have to guard quicker guys. But I think we have an advantage inside; we have to get the ball in there and get them in foul trouble.”