Rio Rancho High School boys basketball coach Wally Salata said Cibola was a dangerous team, and two nights after that was said, Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez could verify it after the Cougars sent the Storm into last place of District 1-5A with a 64-54 victory in the Thunderdome.
It was the Storm’s eighth loss in a row, and Jimenez was asked if it felt like the proverbial wheels were coming off.
“I don’t think they’ve come off — we’ve still got a lot more games to play,” he said. “Five games left to play? We lose these next five games, I can say the wheels came off.
“We’re just struggling. We’re getting, with all these games, we’re right there,” he said. “And then we have a bad four or five possessions in a row.”
The first half was a back-and-forth battle, with 11 lead changes, and Cleveland (10-11, 0-3) taking a 24-22 lead on a bucket by Elijah Brody.
Jimenez pointed to the Cougars’ hot start in the second half — a 10-2 run when they took the lead to keep — as his team’s downfall.
The Storm scored the last five points of the third quarter to trail by one, 39-38, heading into the final period, with Josia Ortiz missing a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt that would have given the Storm the edge.
The fourth quarter was mostly a two-possession game until Jimenez called a timeout with 2:58 to go and the Cougars ahead, 49-47.
The Cougars (7-11, 1-2) went on a 12-2 run after that, with five of those points coming from the foul line, and the Storm missing shot after shot — finishing a dismal 4 of 26 from 3-point range in the game, and missing 11 straight from behind the arc in the second half.
The Storm could get no closer than eight the rest of the way, as the Cougars wound up the game with a 25-point fourth quarter — after amassing only 22 points in the first half. Thirteen of their fourth-quarter points came at the foul line.
“It’s tough when you shoot that many 3s and you don’t hit any,” Jimenez said. “We’re not getting easy shots, and then we’re fouling them so much, we can’t push it back in transition, where that’s our strength. They’re sending four guys back on the free throws.
“So we’re struggling — the wheels haven’t fallen off, but we’re struggling, that’s what I would say,” Jimenez concluded.
Elijah Brody led the Storm with 12 points; Daniel Steverson, Nic Trujillo and Cole Savage had 11 apiece.
Brady Arrenius led the Cougars with 23, matching his total vs. the Rams two nights earlier.
“That’s one of our weak points — we’re not tough enough to guard big guys; we’re out-sized this year,” Jimenez said of Arrenius, a 6-7 senior who’s deadly inside.
Cleveland’s last horrific losing streak was in the 2012-13 season, when the Storm lost nine in a row; CHS also had an eight-game skid in the 2011-12 season, after a loss to the Cougars — a streak ended with a 79-74 victory over visiting Rio Rancho.
Atrisco Heritage Academy 64, Storm 49: The Storm’s seventh loss in their skid came Tuesday evening in the South Valley.
“Similar to (our game vs. Cibola), we’re up two at half. They score six points coming out of halftime,” Jimenez said. “That third quarter killed us … We made a run in the fourth quarter, ’cuz we’re down eight with 3½ minutes left, and they get a technical and we get a free throw and we miss three of the four — that could’ve cut it to four or five points.”
Brody had 11 points and Steverson added 10 at AHA.
Storm warnings: After their game in the RAC Tuesday, the Storm are home to face unbeaten Volcano Vista Friday at 7 p.m. They’ll have just one game the following week, when AHA visits Feb. 11, also at 7 p.m.