El Dorado, Kan.—Ask El Dorado guard Travis House how good the Wildcats are, and he’ll give you the same answer as his coach.
“We’re 5-0,” House said with a smile, “and that’s something to be proud of.”
House is taking nothing for granted these days, even after leading both teams with 15 points in El Dorado’s 47-31 dismantling of Rose Hill on Tuesday. He was the Wildcats’ best player as a sophomore last season, but they limped to a 8-13 record.
The Wildcats graduated three starters off that team. They’ve found a new identity with their defensive intensity - as they showed against Rose Hill by holding the Rockets to eight first-half points.
El Dorado takes pride in that. The Wildcats are constantly digging in to guard, calling out switches, helping out – and when all else fails, they’ll have a blocked shot like the one House pulled off on a fast break that had Wildcat fans on their feet to end the first half.
“It’s easier to play hard when you’re winning,” House said.
El Dorado never trailed. The Wildcats quickly built leads of 4-0, 11-2 and 17-5. Their biggest lead, 31-10, came early in the second half, thanks to a consecutive pair of pretty 15-footers by Jared Haury.
Meanwhile, John Scott, a blue-collar forward for the Wildcats, said he was thinking about not letting up.
“We had to keep doing what we were doing,” said John Scott, a 6-foot-2 junior who scored 14 points. “We knew they were going to press us and try to come back.”
The Rockets did just that. Their pressure defense and quick-paced offense helped narrow El Dorado’s lead to eight points, 36-28, midway through the fourth quarter.
“They get it up and down the floor,” El Dorado coach Gary Melcher said of the Rockets. “They like to get a shot up quick. If you let them have two or three, you’re in trouble.”
But El Dorado’s Collin Just answered the Rockets’ run with an inside basket. House was fouled on a fast break and made the free throw. Then House connected on a reverse layup. Just like that, the Wildcats had a comfortable 15-point lead, 43-28, with two minutes left.
Melcher loved his team’s effort, especially with defense and loose balls. He said his team has some offensive liabilities, but nothing that can’t be overcome with more confidence.
“We can get better, put it that way,” Melcher said. “Which you would hope we could, since we still have three-quarters of the season left.”
So how good are the Wildcats?
“We’re 5-0,” Melcher said. “I don’t know. I’m old, and how I look at things isn’t probably how the players look at things. After the game I wrote 5-16 (on locker room whiteboard). I know we can’t do any worse than that.”