When Denton and Guyer take the Wildcat Gymnasium floor at 7:30 tonight, a lot more than bragging rights will be on the line.
The rivalry always has made for good theater, and was renewed in December when Guyer topped Denton by seven points — Denton’s only District 5-4A loss — but tonight’s game has playoff implications.
Almost three-fourths of the way through district play, the teams are knotted atop the district standings with Trophy Club Nelson, and a win tonight will go a long way toward securing at least a second-place finish.
“It’s a great thing for Denton basketball,” said Guyer’s first-year head coach Grant Long, who was a Guyer assistant under two prior head coaches. “I’m very proud to be a part of it. If you’re not excited about this, you just don’t get excited. I’m just happy our guys are ready to get after it and battle. I tell our guys to fear no one but respect everyone, and we have a lot of respect for those guys. They play hard and they have a good coaching staff.”
The excitement reaches beyond the basketball court.
“The excitement at our school, right now, is amazing,” Denton Principal Dan Ford said. “[Guyer is] another school in our district and it’s exciting to see their success. It’s exciting to see Denton’s success as well, and that bodes well for the entire school district. ... We’ve got a crowd of local community members and parents who are coming out to support Denton and everything happening right now.”
Guyer (17-6, 7-1 district) is No. 14 in the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches’ Class 4A poll, but Denton (12-13, 7-1) is the hottest team in the district. The Broncos have not lost a 5-4A game since Dec. 21 and have won their last six district games behind an athletic, transition-based offense led by Michael Jackson.
But there is plenty of other help for the Broncos, and head coach Harold Jackson said that is the key component of the run that has the Broncos in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth for the first time since 2010.
“I just think that we’re playing extremely hard and unselfish,” the Denton coach said. “We’re not caring which one of us gets the credit or who’s the high-point man. The confidence has grown since we’ve been playing that way. It’s been a fun ride, but we’re still taking it one game at a time.”
That’s a cliché among coaches, but since each team won Tuesday night — Denton over Lake Dallas and Guyer over Azle — Long and Jackson have been focusing solely on each other’s teams.
“Their speed and their ability to get up the floor in transition is tough to deal with,” Long said. “I think that is their biggest quality. A big benefit at Denton, too, is they’re pretty deep. They have some guys come off the bench that can play just as well as their starters.”
In the previous meeting, Guyer was led by post player Justin Griffin’s 18 points, but Harold Jackson said he knows Griffin can’t be the focal point of his team’s defensive game plan. That honor falls to the Wildcats’ outside shooters.
Guyer guard Sean Choate is shooting 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, while Zack Duncan has been good on 41 percent of his treys. Junior guard Miles Crawford shoots 35 percent and made five long-distance shots in Tuesday’s win over Azle.
“You don’t want them to shoot the ball, because that’s what they do well,” Harold Jackson said. “The only thing you can do is contest their outside shooting. They’re going to make a few, but hopefully they’ll miss a few as well. You can’t have too many lapses in your assignments on the defensive end.”
If Denton can contain the Wildcats’ outside shooting and keep Griffin from having a huge rebounding game, Harold Jackson said his team can leave Guyer with sole possession of first place in the district, thanks to its current tiebreaker over Nelson.
Either way, he said, it’s going to be a big night for the city of Denton.
“It is really good to see that both teams from the same town are having tremendous success,” Harold Jackson said. “I’m really proud of what those kids and coaches over there have done. The only time I don’t root for them is when they’re playing against us. When Denton schools aren’t playing each other, I think we need to pull for each other. I think [Long] is doing a great job with those guys, and I think it’ll be an electric atmosphere Friday night.”
Staff writer Patrick Hayslip contributed to this story.
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .