On the road against a tough opponent, North showed all the makings of the type of team that can ride to the top of District 31-5A this year. The Coogs were fierce on defense, made some big shots, and got a breakout game from a young post player.
But they dropped an overtime decision to Memorial Tuesday despite the pluses, due to the fact that the "old North" made a few untimely appearances. This past-tense operation was known for faulty judgment with the ball in the late going, forcing the action and losing leads.
The consensus this season is that Coach Rudy Garcia's club has what it takes to vie for the top spot, not only in town but in the league. And Tuesday's effort gives no reason to doubt that, though the Coogs were good and peeved at letting one get away.
They led 50-49 late in the extra period before a huge turnover enabled Memorial to get a last shot, which Juan "Papito" Gonzalez nailed for a three-pointer at 0:03, handing the game to the Mustangs (6-3). For North (6-5, lost four of five before the weekend's action) a couple of last-second miscues came back to haunt the charge.
"Too many careless mistakes still, we just have to cut that out," said Garcia, whose club made the playoffs in 2010-11 with much improved overall play. "We get the good defense at the end, but we turn it over when we get it back. If we want to go far this year, we have to do better than that. We had this one and it slipped away."
The Coogs took a 5-point lead at the half thanks to a deft 10-point, second-period explosion from 6-3 junior Alex Garza (he had 14 for the game, after getting a total of 10 in the first 10 games). Football star Joel Cuellar had come on to nail a few shots as the visitor rallied into control.
But North went cold in the third and Gonzalez, a fancy little junior guard, heated up a freezing gym with 10 points, including two of his seven treys. After a nice defensive half to start, with pressure on the ball, the Coogs started fouling, and Memorial made 5 of 7 free throws in the period.
The Mustangs led 41-36 after three until Brian Beltran sparked the club with all-around excellence, scoring six and turning up the D out front. His jumper kept them close and then a block and an assist pulled North even at 44.
Beltran's lefty layup made it 46-all after a deuce from Gonzales, setting up a nasty final minute. The teams exchanged turnovers with the Coogs also missing a chippie layup, and it went to OT.
In the extra period, the Coogs struck first when Mando Peralta converted an inbounds pass from Sam Cavazos, but Gonzalez' 3 put Memorial ahead. Garza then made a stickback on the offensive glass for a 50-49 advantage, and Peralta worked hard to keep Gonzalez at bay. He drew a charge from the high-scoring guard with 39 seconds left but then the Coogs lost it in the backcourt; luckily the ‘Stangs gave it back thereafter.
Here was the key juncture, as North ran the ball up with the lead and threw it away. As the season progresses, the Coogs will need to hold that rock and force the opponent to play D and eventually foul.
Instead, Memorial controlled for the last shot and called timeout with eight seconds to go. Gonzalez got free and sank the game-winner with 0:03 left.
Coming in, Garcia noted that the Coogs have played a tough early schedule to get ready for league play.
"We will continue to do that because it makes us better in the end," said the coach, who has seen his unit work against Laredo Alexander, McAllen, Pharr North, Victoria East and Econ twice so far. "We have played with confidence all year, and the good competition will do us some good when we get started in district."
Garza led the way with 14 and seven rebounds, while Beltran had 10 with five boards.
NOTES: Through 11 games, Aaron Beltran (82 points), Brandon Davila (75), Cavazos (68), Peralta (66), and Brian Beltran (63) had paced a very balanced attack. Cavazos hit 10 of the team's 21 threes during that stretch.
The Coogs (now 8-7) made a nice effort at the BISD Tourney in Brownsville over the weekend, beating a pair of foes before two narrow losses Saturday, 47-44 to eventual tourney champ McAllen Rowe and 46-44 to Brownsville Porter.