It was a day when both teams were looking to make a statement, to start the District 31-5A race off with a win and show that they belong in the discussion about league playoff contenders.
North and Econ made their presence felt Saturday at North, but the Jags went first, leaving the Cougars to deliver the signature communication on the afternoon’s event. Led by a monster game from junior Jared Weems and solid inside play from tough Mile Lopez, North rebounded from a 13-point deficit with a decisive performance after the break. The Coogs won going away, 62-47, setting a season high for points and completely shutting down Econ after the Orange had looked great in the early going.
Weems had 21 points and 11 rebounds, including 14 points in the third period with nine straight free-throw conversions, while Lopez collected 12 boards and added 16 points for North, now 9-9 overall.
The athletic Weems was fouled on three-point attempts twice in the tell-tale quarter, which began with Econ up by 10, 29-19. He made all six free shots and simply took over the game for the Cougars, who came in having averaged a mere 44 points in 17 non-district tilts, with a high of 58 against Brownsville Lopez in late December. Coach Rudy Garcia’s bunch outscored the foe 28-10 in the third, for a season high in single-quarter scoring, while the Jags (9-8) went cold and started to turn the ball over.
Lalo Rios’ club could not get good shot attempts from the floor and made just four of 15 free throws in the second half as North pulled away;for both coaches, pre-game questions were answered.
Garcia wanted his team to play with more intensity after it fell behind by 15 points in two of the three games at the Weslaco East Christmas Classic last week. He said that more energy also could have helped the Coogs in their first try against the city rival, a non-league game the Jags prevailed in, 54-45.
“We were definitely more intense out there in the second half,” said Garcia, whose team got great point guard play from senior Juan Ramirez in the final 16 minutes, especially on defense. “We started working harder and it paid off. The Jags were flat knocking down some shots in the beginning.”
Rios had told his team that their performance Saturday was going to let people out there know if the Jags were ready to compete for the postseason. Coming in, they’d looked strong on certain occasions, and needed to hammer home the new perspective with a 4-quarters effort.
Unfortunately for Rios and Co., the first-half excellence faded quickly after intermission, and the East Siders need to duplicate the fast start down the road if they want to remain relevant in the race. Hitting four threes and jumping on the Coogs before they could set up, Econ came out sharp, leading 22-9 at one point in the second quarter after a trey from soph J.J. Velasquez.
Leading scorer John Barrientes (18 ppg) was held under double figures for only the third time all year (one other such night came in the first North game), finishing with eight points and a team-best 12 caroms. But he made a big contribution to the ride in the early going on defense and with a pair of smooth assists versus the double-teams thrown at him by the Coog zone.
After Josh Diaz and Velasquez nailed two bombs apiece to establish the 10-point advantage after a sluggish first half, Garcia sent his men back out there for some rugged man-to-man D, and it worked well. With Ramirez keying the charge out front with outstanding quickness and anticipation, the Coogs stymied the Econ offense totally. Add in the woes that the Orange suffered through at the line and it spelled doom.
Weems started cold with 0 for 4, but he made a three and another J in the second, setting up his superb third period. Lopez bulled his way to eight in that period as North dominated, Barrientes managing six points against the fierce Coog rush.
Econ pulled to within eight at 49-41 early in the fourth on a shot from Ricky Cantu (10 rebounds) but Lopez converted in traffic and then Weems banged in a line-drive trifecta at 5:29 to make it 54-41, sealing the deal. Weems came in with a 9.3 per-game mark, with a season high of 20 against Beeville.
LADY COOGS STRUGGLE BUT WIN
In the late game of the Saturday doubleheader, the North girls played poorly throughout but eked out a 33-27 win against the Lady Jags.
Soph Vicky Pena led the way with 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Coogs (3-0 in league, 16-9 overall) while Mariah Galvan scored eight with six boards for Econ (1-2, 11-12). The Lady Jags led 15-14 after a miserable first half full of turnovers and missed shots, but Pena caught fire for seven in the third and Brandy Garcia had three blocks, two steals, and a pair of assists during the run.
Econ’s scoring woes continued against a North D that made up for the bad offensive day; Coach Kelly Garrett’s team averaged just 34 points in 20 non-district outings and chances for a win evaporated in the face of the team’s abysmal free-throw shooting (13 of 34 for 42 percent).
Signifying how tough it was for the Lady Jags: they were held scoreless in the third until a pair of charity tosses from Yvetta Garza with two seconds left in the period.