'New look' Marauders eye strong region run

Bob Woods got what he was asking for this holiday season, at least as it relates to his Mingus Union boys basketball team.

The Marauder coach opened his stocking and discovered a full roster inside – for the first time all season. Injured players have returned to full health, and ineligible players have regained their active status. All just in time for Grand Canyon Region play.

The results so far have been promising. Mingus went 3-1 at the annual Tucson Santa Cruz Shootout the week after Christmas. The Marauders did lose to Chinle 73-62 in their region opener Saturday, but gave a solid effort overall on the Wildcats’ home floor – one of the most hostile gyms in all of 4A.

“We’re playing a lot better right now,” Woods said. “We pressing more and we’re pushing the ball on every possession. We’re playing faster, which we didn’t do earlier in the year.”

One of the biggest additions to the lineup has been freshman Harold Mitchell. He was called up from the JV team for the pre-Christmas Pepsi Invitational in Flagstaff and has made an immediate impact. Mitchell scored 11 against Chinle on Saturday and scored 12 points in one of the Tucson tournament contests.

Seniors Jeremy Gonzalez and Frank Buss, who both started at times last year, came back after Christmas and also are contributing in important ways. Gonzalez gives the Marauders speed in the backcourt. Buss is another big presence in the paint.

“Our intensity has just gone way up, and a lot of that comes from having Jeremy and Buss back,” Woods said. “Buss doesn’t score a lot but he is aggressive defensively on the boards.”

Other returnees include sophomore Dmitri Zagar (wing) and junior Adam Beck (guard). Zagar was one of Mingus’ scoring leaders early on before injuring his ankle. Beck is one of the top ball-handlers on the team.

“I feel really good right now,” Woods said. “Even though we lost to Chinle, it felt like we won. We know that we played well enough to win that game in a tough atmosphere. That’s something to build on. We’re a lot better club (than in November and early December). I think we’ll really improve a lot.”

Senior Stephen Cook hit a couple of threes in the fourth quarter to pull Mingus back into contention against Chinle. The Marauders were down by as much as 10 early in the fourth before cutting the deficit to three.

Cook led Mingus with 15 points. In addition to Mitchell’s 11, Michael Ruelas and Tyler Wennet added 9 points each, Jeff Cook 6, Zagar and Gonzales 5 each and Brandon Green 2.

Mingus lost its open in Tucson to a 5A team from Las Vegas by a strange score of 40-23. The Marauders did a lot of things well in that contest – except make baskets. They were 10-of-50 from the field. They trailed 15-10 at half.

“We played great defensively, but if you can’t buy a basket, you’re not going to win,” Woods said.

The next game was a total reversal. Mingus didn’t seem to miss in an 88-47 rout over ACS Canada. Gonzales led the Marauders with 14 points, including two 3-pointers. Jeff Cook added 11, and Michael Kleinman added 10.

“The night before we couldn’t buy a bucket. This game we were all over the place. We were shooting lights out,” Woods said.

Mingus cut down 4A Catalina Foothills, a hometown team from Tucson, in the consolation semifinals. Mitchell scored 12 points, Stephen Cook 11 and Green 10 as the Marauders won 68-55. Mitchell hit two big 3-pointers. Gonzalez also had two treys and finished with 8 points.

That win put Mingus in the consolation championship against Desert Christian, another Tucson team. Even though Desert is typically one of the top 2A teams in the state, the Marauders cruised to a 77-46 win.

Wennet played big and finished with 16 points. Stephen Cook (9 points) and Mitchell (8 points) helped lead a very balanced scorebook.

This week marks a big stretch for the Marauders and should reveal whether Woods’ team will be among the GCR contenders or scrambling from the bottom of the pile. Mingus played rival Flagstaff on Tuesday night (game finished after press time), will host Sinagua on Thursday and will travel to Coconino on Friday.

Next Tuesday (Jan. 13), Mingus will host Tempe McClintock in a non-region duel. McClintock is currently ranked first in 4A by The Arizona Republic.

“We played them so tough at their place last year,” Woods said. “It’ll be a big opportunity for us. It’s going to be fun to play against the best.”

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