BY ANDREW McCULLOCH
WESLACO — During the first half of a fast-paced contest, the Edinburg High Bobcats burst out to a quick advantage over the Weslaco East Wildcats and showed few signs of slowing down.
Edinburg High point guard Leslie Martinez dribbled the ball across the half-court stripe to set up the offense before cutting left and dumping a pass down low to center Brianna Sanchez. Sanchez posted up the smaller defender, dribbled twice and nailed a running layup for two points.
On the next possession, Sanchez rose over a double team to hit a bank shot down low and before the Edinburg High defenders could drop back on defense, guard Daysha Tijerina pickpocketed the Wildcats’ point guard and glided in for an uncontested transition layup.
Martinez, Sanchez, Tijerina and the Bobcats’ uptempo style and dominance down low offensively and defensively to use a huge first half run en route to a 44-13 road victory over Weslaco East in the teams’ District 31-6A opener Friday.
“We started off with the press a little bit,” Edinburg High head coach John David Salinas said. “We got off to a hot start and we started with a press and moving the ball, getting easy opportunities.”
The Bobcats, the fifth-ranked 6A team in the state by the Texas Girls Coaches Association, jumped out to a speedy 12-2 edge thanks to the 3-point shooting of Julissah Santa Maria and Tijerina, who have been two of the team’s most consistent scorers and long-range threats this season.
The duo combined for three big 3-pointers in the first 4 minutes of play. Santa Maria and Tijerina’s hot shooting stroke helped Edinburg High craft an early lead, but it was the Bobcats’ defensive intensity that allowed them to gain separation.
The Wildcats had problems breaking through the Bobcats’ full-court press out of the gate, but struggled more when trying to feed the ball into the post offensively. Sanchez, who was an interior presence on both ends of the floor, led an airtight Edinburg High defense inside the paint that collapsed into double teams on drive attempts.
“We just stayed in a man-to-man and tried to make things a little difficult for them and it worked,” Salinas said. “Of course, it helps when we have our senior big girl underneath the basket protecting the paint and making it a little more challenging for them to get points close to the rim.”
Jamie and Janelle Tanguma, Weslaco East’s starting backcourt, normally thrive slashing to the bucket from the perimeter, but struggled to get going against Sanchez. The Tangumas had trouble finishing contested shots in heavy traffic and were forced to pull up farther from the hoop to avoid Sanchez’s reach.
The two Weslaco East guards were limited to 3 of 18 shooting and their mismatch down low gave them a big disadvantage on the boards. The Bobcats out-rebounded the Wild-cats 32-18.
Sanchez and Edinburg High took advantage of their mismatch down low offensively as well in the second. The Bobcats entered the quarter already leading 18-4, but thanks to Sanchez’s superb shooting on the low block raced ahead with a 10-0 run to carry a 20-point lead into half time.
“The girls were looking inside in the first half,” Salinas said. “We saw a lot of opportunities coming from Brianna (Sanchez).”
The Wildcats, however, responded in the second half and turned the game into a defensive struggle. They limited the Bobcats to single-digit point totals in both the third and fourth quarters and slowed the game down enough to favor their half-court offense.
“I took the press off. It affected us a little bit and we started playing a little slower and the tempo of the game started to get slow,” Salinas said. “They started off with a man (defense) and when they started going to a zone, it got a little bit more difficult for us. But then we started making some changes on our own.”
Weslaco East held Edinburg High to 26% shooting on 3-pointers, but ultimately failed to match the Bobcats’ offensive output in the second even with a good defensive showing. Janelle Tanguma scored a team-high six points.
The Bobcats depth ultimately propelled them to victory despite being shorthanded. Tijerina led the way with a game-high 13 points, while Sanchez tallied a 10-point, 14-rebound double-double and Santa Maria chipped in seven points.
Salinas was happy to see his entire team get some valuable playing time before the team breaks for holidays with a difficult district stretch ahead.
“Everybody got to play a little bit. I know we didn’t score our average or close to our average, but getting everybody into the game was beneficial to us,” he said. “We were able to see what we need to work on and get better as we move on into the Christmas break and district play the following week after that.”