One of the easiest ways to spot a young basketball team is how they close games. The Rancho Cotate Cougars proved this assessment accurate Tuesday night. The Cougars entered the fourth quarter with a 7-point led, led by as many as 12, only to lose the lead on a four-point play on the final play of regulation. The Cougars’ sloppy play down the stretch was a sign of a young team trying to figure out how to win.
Though the Cougars won by 12 points (87-75) after a dominant overtime period, Head Coach Mike Washington showed his frustration during the game and even after the game about the Cougars not being able to close the game out in regulation.
“I think we got content, we took our foot off the pedal,” Washington said. “They (Ukiah) put their foot on the gas as number 14 (Dylan Perez) did a really good job of attacking the paint, getting to the free throw line and putting the pressure on us.”
Washington said the Wildcats did a good job getting to the free throw line and stopping the clock while the Cougars struggled defensively in the fourth quarter.
For those in attendance it looked like a game the Cougars were going to let slip away, but then Andrew Pengel and Sal Vadrawale happened. Both underclassmen stepped up when the Cougars needed them the most.
Pengel, a sophomore guard, entered Tuesday’s game leading the Cougars in scoring and had reached 20 points in four of his last five games. Pengel was on fire the whole night for the Cougars, finishing with 29 points and contributed huge buckets in overtime. While the freshman point guard Vadrawale scored all of his six points in overtime after taking over for Javion Scott, who fouled out early in the OT period.
Coach Washington was very happy with his team’s performance in overtime and thought they did a much better job executing.
“In overtime we did a good job of just staying the course,” Washington said. “Regardless of what happened the first four quarters we did a job of staying mentally in the game, kept our foot on the gas and gave it our all.”
Another development for the Cougars is the return of Darius Hurst from the Cougars’ football team. Hurst exploded for 21 points and five rebounds Tuesday night for the Cougars, including making big plays on both ends during the over time. Hurst, along with Prengel and Scott gives the Cougars three guards who can shoot, handle and pass.
Something else to note is the improved play of the Cougars’ offense. The Cougars’ offense has looked rough at times in the early season, because of the young players, not having the football players and Washington trying to figure out what his team looks like. Those who watched the scrimmage against Santa Rosa High School and even the game against Sonoma Valley last month can attest to how much the Cougars’ offense has improved. The team is running plays and scoring off of them with much more frequency. This smooth offense leads to many more open shots, which the Cougars knocked down more consistently.
Washington credits having more practice time as the reason for the improved offense. It’s hard for a basketball coach to get the most out of their team if they don’t have practices. Practice has allowed Washington to work out the kinks.
“Just having practice time has been a huge difference for the football guys especially,” Washington said. “It allows them to get acclimated with what we are doing on the offensive end just knowing our sets and schemes. Darius especially played well on both sides of the ball tonight.”
After Tuesday night’s win the Cougars are 8-8 on the season and Coach Washington knows the team can still get better, but he was happy with his team’s performance, especially in overtime.
“With us not going to overtime before, we just had to figure out who we really were as a team and I thought they kind of buckled down tonight and got it done.”
Something like an overtime win can very easily propel a young team like the Cougars to new heights so it will be interesting to watch this team’s progression throughout league play. The Cougars will look to keep their momentum going with a Friday night affair against Elsie Allen High School. The game is 7:30 p.m. and will be a home game.