Eli Lopez has been around the game of basketball a while so Friday’s effort from his No. 18 seed Mountain Ridge didn’t surprise him.
It was the way his Mountain Lions pounced out of the gate which he was pleased with most.
Junior guard Tanner Ray and senior forward Saikou Gueye each had 16 points and Mountain Ridge defeated No. 15 Red Mountain 61-47 in Mesa during Friday’s 6A play-in contest.
“Tanner and Saikou were shooting well. We came to play today. Although it’s a little easier with their star (Timmy Allen) being hurt. That’s a great basketball team we just beat,” Lopez said.
They got nine points from Ray in the first quarter alone
Three straight Ridge triples from the tip put Todd Fazio’s team in a tough position. Trailing 13-2 early he was forced to put Allen in the game quicker than anticipated.
“We wanted to come out hot and make shots early so that we could counter their home advantage,” Ray said.
Despite a stagnant second-quarter, Red Mountain never really threatened much (the closest the hosts got was 25-22).
Every answer was replied to. The packed crowd was deflated from the start and it continued for 32 minutes.
A Chris Hermes three returned the deficit to double-digits at 32-22 and the visitors never looked back, holding it above nine the rest of the night.
Mountain Ridge had four players in double-figures, the other two being Idaho-bound forward Jared Rodriguez and Hermes.
That will be huge confidence-wise for Wednesday’s round of 16 match at either Tempe Corona del Sol or Chandler Basha. They Mountain Lions find out their destination Sunday morning.
“We know it’ll take our best effort to beat those very good programs. We saw Basha over the Holiday Challenge in Mesa. They’re a challenge. Playing either will be a test,” Lopez said.