The Aztecs had trouble containing the perimeter, yet trailed by only a couple of points at the half against the Red Mountain Lions. In the second half, however, the Aztec defense tightened up, and a scoring run broke the game open for Corona. That’s how the young season has gone for the Aztecs, says coach Neil MacDonald, whose team is now sitting 3-1 after a 69-52 win in Mesa.
“We didn’t communicate very well in the first half; we switched defenses a couple of times and we didn’t do a very good job talking about defense,” MacDonald said. “So, we left shooters open, and they made shots. In the second half we did a much better job of communicating and we didn’t really change anything—we just did what we were doing better.”
Senior power forward Bo Dolinsek said the team talked about cleaning up their mistakes before moving into and controlling the second half. He paced the Aztecs with 21 points, and his success came from the paint with his 6-foot-7 frame.
“(I) just got to the paint and the free throw line, and scored easy buckets. This team has a lot of heart; we’re 14 seniors, we’re all together and we know how to play well together.” This year’s team is composed of nearly all seniors, and is much shorter than last year’s team.
But that doesn’t matter to Dolinsek or MacDonald.
It’s the continuity and playing style that has driven the fast start to the season. “All the guys that are playing right now played a lot of minutes last year,” MacDonald said. “We got a lot of interchangeable pieces that we lost in size, but now we can run a lot of bodies of people and defense has been key right now – that was the key tonight. “We didn’t execute very well offensively, but in the fourth quarter, we defended really well.”
While shorter, the gritty defense of the Aztecs has helped generate turnovers and past-break points. It was evident against the Lions, and guys like senior Crew Swearingen, who had 15 points with a handful of steals. MacDonald says it’s a luxury to have players like Dolinsek and Swearingen, but it’s a complete team effort and the chemistry of his roster is the leading factor.
“Every guy in this program is one of our guys,” he said. “We have no transfers here. They’re all guys that started here as freshmen.” While it’s only four games into the season and the Aztecs are still finding their legs, the players are excited and MacDonald has high aspirations for what his team can accomplish.
“I think that we’ve got a lot of weapons and when we get everybody healthy and firing on all cylinders, we might actually be pretty good,” he said. “We might be really hard to guard and we know we can guard people.” Added Dolinsek: “I’m really confident about this year. I think we can go a long way.”