The Rancho Cotate Cougars boys’ basketball team lost their first conference match of the season Fri. night against the Ukiah Wildcats, 54-44, despite a significant halftime lead.
It’s not the first time the Cougars faced off against the Wildcats and given past experience perhaps a bit of cockiness is understandable. After all, the Cougars beat the Wildcats twice already this season, so why not a third?
Confidence is good. But hubris? Well, hubris is another beast entirely. Go in with the wrong mindset and even the smallest of Davids can take down a Goliath, and according to the Cougars’ head coach, Michael Washington, that’s exactly what happened at Rancho Cotate Fri. night.
“We mainly got into our own heads,” Washington said. “Everyone had their own expectations about how the game was going to go and didn’t wake up when it was needed—we sleep walked, thinking that if we just kept doing what were then we would win.”
Throughout the first quarter the Cougars and the Wildcats stayed, more or less, within just a couple of points of each other. Baskets on both sides were rare and defense held tight, but the Cougars managed to pull ahead when Jayvion Scott bounced a shot off the rim. Derek Gorman swept in from the side and recovered his team’s own rebound, passing to Connor Barbato.
Barbato stood in the open. The Wildcats scrambled to cover him, but they were too slow. A calm look came over the Cougar. He lined up the shot and fired, and the ball fell through the net for an easy three points, pulling his team ahead.
Those three points might build the lead, but it was a narrow one. The Cougars widened it in the second quarter.
We go back to Jayvion Scott. As a sophomore on a varsity team, Scott is small but fast and he put that speed on full display when he snatched the ball right out of the hands of Wildcat, Dylan Perez, around the half court mark. Perez went after Scott in full pursuit. He got in front of him outside the Wildcat basket and the two went one on one while the rest of the court hurried to catch them.
Scott juked to the left, then the right, then the left again, and this final move sent Perez sprawling. With Perez on the floor, the path to the basket lay open. Scott leapt for a layup. He might have made it, but a desperate foul by a Wildcat defender sent the shot wide. The free throw landed the Cougars just a single point.
After halftime the energy on the court changed. Rancho felt listless, slow, struggling to sink even simple baskets. Throughout the entire third quarter the Cougars managed only nine points compared to Ukiah’s seventeen.
“They wanted it more, honestly,” Scott said. “All of our heads were down. We were in our heads more than we were in the game.”
It all started with Wildcat player, Quincy Hayes. After the Wildcats got the rebound on their own missed three pointers, Hayes passed the ball out of the paint to his teammates waiting on the outside. The Wildcats probed the Cougars for an opening, but couldn’t quite find one. The shot clock ticked down.
With just a couple of seconds left to go, Perez saw his opening. He dove into a gap, muscling his way through two Cougar defenders who closed in to stop him. With almost a casual flick, he tossed the ball in a layup. It sank through the hoop and pulled the Wildcats ahead.
“What we did is we decided to deny the first pass. It really gave [Rancho] fits. They were uncomfortable. They started making mistakes they don’t normally,” Wildcats’ coach, Duane Nelson said. “That small little adjustment really paid off.”
The next opponent for the Cougars will be Healdsburg Fri., Jan. 25.