F.or too small a group that Capital Jaguars learn to play big.
It could be the way back to the postseason.
Capital has been used to being the smaller team on a basketball court over the years, but this season brought a new crease with it. This is the smallest team head coach Ben Gomez has led in his two appearances over 14 years, with only two players taller than six feet. It could also be their best shooting team, with virtually any player able to knock down 3-point shots.
Obviously, the best route to the Jaguars’ success starts from the perimeter – unless Gomez sees it differently. The 6-foot-5 Gomez says Capital still needs to look inward to fire close-range shots as this makes his perimeter gunnery touch even more effective.
“They think that because ‘it’s a pass and I’m open’ it’s a good shot,” said Gomez. “Well yes. They’re open for a reason, especially if they don’t go under. It’s one of those things that you have to look for something else about.”
Proof of this are the results so far this season, as Capital goes 5-2 into the championship game of its own Al Armendariz tournament on Saturday. After a spring season in which the Jaguars finished the postseason 7-3 for the first time in 20 years, they hope to have found a formula that can lead to a return to the postseason.
In a 74-55 home win over Taos on Nov. 30, Capital knocked down 11 3ers, using overwhelming pressure across the field to bury the Tigers. It also created a false sense of security about their gunshot touch, and the result was a fight during the capital tournament at Santa Fe High. The Jaguars hit 22 3-pointers during the tournament but shot less than 40 percent overall if they won just one of three games, including a 67-59 loss to Taos in third place.
A week later, Capital showed it was quick to learn from its mistakes. The principles of offense remained – ball movements that often resulted in an open lane to attack the edge or an open view of the back of the defense. In a 67-36 win against Pojoaque in the semi-finals on Friday night, Capital hit 27 of 48 shots, including seven 3s, as the Elks defense crawls in vain.
“We just started working more as a team instead of taking individual shots,” said 5-8 junior guard Izaya Sanchez-Valencia. “Everything opened up more when we hit the inside and went inside out. It’s a lot easier because everything opens up and the defenses start to move more. And we are a shooting team. “
Gomez said he wasn’t sure what type of team he would have due to the inconsistent participation of players during summer camps. He said three players were absent from the shortened spring season either because of inadmissibility or concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and this went on throughout the summer. The team only really had the opportunity to play together with training in mid-November.
“I think we just didn’t have the confidence in the summer,” said Sanchez-Valencia. “We’re building this up now, and we haven’t gotten as much practice as we should have. Now that trust is emerging, everyone trusts each other that they have a chance and that they will find each other. “
While the Jaguars have learned to attack teams better on offense, the harder part of slowing down opponents remains on defense. In consecutive losses to Española Valley and Taos at the Capital City Tournament, the Jaguars struggled to slow down two teams that had multiple players, 6 to 5 and larger. In a 49-46 semi-final defeat by the Sundevils, Ollie Fell had 13 points with 6-7 post, eight of them in the second half.
It didn’t help that the Jaguars were so understaffed due to foul issues that they had a line-up in the last minute of the game with no player taller than 5-7 on the pitch.
Against the Tigers the next day, Daemon Ely lost 19 points by 6-7 post as Taos took better care of the ball and used his size to his advantage.
Jaguar’s senior wing Anthony Alvez said the team had worked hard to get players to the front post and defenders on the help page to make the paint less accessible. The Jaguars have also invested extra time in box-out drills to keep bigger players off the glass and limit the chances of second chance.
“I’d say it’s more of a mental thing because if you think, ‘You’re bigger than me,’ you will understand,” Alvez said. “You won’t get most of those rebounds, but if you go in like this, ‘I’m going to corpse him, I’ll find her. I’ll push him out, most of the time they won’t get those rebounds over you. “
Gomez said that pressure from Capital across the field can help limit the impact big men can have as defense forces sales, leading to transition baskets that can take some of the pressure off to find ways to score in the half field. It works so far, since Capital steals on average about 12 a game in the season.
“We’re trying to divert the ball into our hands and we create tussles. That can help because they’re smaller,” said Gomez. “We’ll come with you [the ball] and we can change. But sometimes it doesn’t work. “
And when that doesn’t work out, the Jaguars have shown they are smart enough to play a new way at the right moment, to play big.