NABI Silver Bracket
After 0-3 start, AZ Natives respond with second-place finish
By Quentin Jodie
PHOENIX, July 25, 2013
(Times photo – Donovan Quintero)
I n the hours leading up to the Silver championship bracket of the Native American Basketball Invitational, Art Singer repeatedly told his boys to keep working.
After not winning a single game during pool play action and producing a 0-3 record, the AZ Natives coach felt that there was more to his team than what their record indicated.
"We played some tough teams in our bracket and we were intimidated," Singer said. "They were well-coached teams."
Needless to say they took their lumps and finished with a 0-3 record at the start of the 11th annual event, which took place at various sites in the Phoenix-metro area.
But on the final day of competition, the AZ Natives responded with four straight wins and reached the championship game of the silver bracket, which was played at Phoenix College.
"I basically told them to keep their heads up," Singer said when asked what he told his young group of underclassmen. "I kept telling the boys that we needed to keep working hard. Every one of them put a lot effort into this and it helped."
Finishing last in their pool play also helped, Singer added.
"I think that was what motivated us," he said. "Our pool got us ready for the silver bracket."
In the championship game, the AZ Natives faced a familiar foe and lost 73-55 to the Yakama Nation basketball team.
"We played with them in our pool," Singer said of the Washington state team. "We gave them a good game (last Friday) but today we weren't playing defense. They have a lot of good shooters and we gave them too many open looks.
"We also missed a lot of baskets underneath so that was the outcome of the game," Singer said.
Yakama Nation coach Everette Howe Sr., said their rematch with AZ Natives was a tale of two halves as his club stretched a 37-33 halftime lead into a 57-41 cushion with 8:29 left in the second half on a three-point basket from point guard Fermen Wheeler.
"We played three games previous to this one and I told the guys this was it," Howe said. "This was our last chance to (extend) the lead and keep our momentum going … fortunately our shots went through.
"You know they surprised me," he added. "They came up with this (trophy) and I am happy with that. They stepped it up and they played with their hearts. That is all I can ask for."
During their second half run, Howe said his team exploited their speed by attacking the basket.
"We worked on our zone offense," he said. "We attacked the basket and they had to collapse on defense and that left somebody open. That was what they did and I am very proud of them. It's been a long battle. We've been at this since 9 a.m. (last Saturday) morning."
Despite the score, the AZ Natives made their presence felt in the first half. After trailing 13-10, the Natives responded with an 6-0 run, with soon-to-be Coconino sophomore Vincent Figueroa scored four of his six points.
Yakama Nation guard Shawn Craig, who finished with a team-best 15 points, tied the match at 16-all and after four lead changes took the lead for good on a trey by Alonzo Ramos for a 24-22 lead.
That basket by Ramos sparked a 12-2 Yakama Nation run as they went up 34-24 on back-to-back treys from Craig with 5:02 left in the first half.
Coming in "we were pretty concerned because we knew that team could shoot," Craig said of the Natives. "We barely beat them by nine points (in pool play) so with them making the championship game we knew they were doing something right."
In the closing minutes, the Arizona team cut that 10-point deficit down to 37-33 at the break with recent Monument Valley graduate Urian Yazzie scoring nine of his game-high 16 points.
"We made a run at them but we didn't do that in the second half," Yazzie said.
Yazzie said the slow start to the second half started to wear them down.
"I really wanted us to win that championship game but I think we just got tired," he said. "It got frustrating because we can play with these guys. We just have to work harder."