It was clear by the seventh-place finish at the Phoenix Union tournament this week that the Mountain Pointe boys basketball team has work to do.
The consolation for playing in the consolation bracket was finding a bit of a rhythm heading into next week's Visitmesa.com Basketball Challenge at Mesa Mountain View.
With the Pride trading baskets in the first quarter with Phoenix Trevor Browne, Mountain Pointe head coach Brian Fleming decided to leave his second unit on the court for extended minutes.
After holding Trevor Browne scoreless for 4 minutes and 20 seconds, the reserves pushed the lead out to a 13-point advantage at 34-21 in an eventual 71-63 win.
"That's what we need this time for, finding players that can play and fit into a role," Fleming said. "We haven't had our full team yet and we need to get a set rotation."
At the beginning of the year several players were unavailable due the football team's extended playoff run. Then pneumonia kept senior Garrett Holle out the entire season this far while senior Izzy Marshall has missed the last three games due to illness as well.
That's height and length missing from the rotation, but if the bench continues to play like it did against Trevor Browne it will lessen the sting.
The second unit that played so well in the win on Tuesday was senior Randall Turner, senior Dominic Payne, sophomore Khari Holloway, freshman Jalen Brown and senior Brandon Johnson.
Holloway was the only starter among the group, but the three seniors give the unit a foundation that is felt throughout the roster.
"We have a lot of seniors ,and we have been together," said senior post Tylor Wimbish, the team's leading scorer (18.2 through five games). "We have a lot players we can turn to and pick each other up."
Holloway said the two separate units push each other.
"When they come in it gets the starters hyped," Holloway said. "Every time they get out there they are looking for more playing time and they want to be in at the end of the game. The starters get back in and they want to play with the same intensity."
The hope is the level of play will carry over into the tournament starting on Monday. There are four games in the tournament. The Pride (6-3) start with Westwind Prep at 10:30 a.m., then take on Scottsdale Horizon at 7 p.m. Tuesday before facing Serra (Gardena, Calif.) on Wednesday at 4 p.m. The final game with be announced based on best possible matchups.
The results are not as important as the minutes logged, the lineups tried and the opponents faced.
Last season Mountain Pointe went 1-3 at the Visitmesa.com, including losing the first three games. After winning on the final day, the Pride lost to Ironwood Ridge the following week and then didn't lose again until the state quarterfinals.
Fleming wouldn't mind winning 16 of 17 games down the stretch again.
He isn't counting on such a run, but Fleming does believe the way the Pride played against Trevor Browne is a good sign.
"After we lost that second game (to Phoenix South Mountain) we had to find some answers," he said. "Not only did we have to find ways to win, we had to find guys who could play. Going into the (Phoenix Union) tournament we thought we had a really good chance to win. We did some soul searching and the kids became a little closer, too."
The team is still relying mostly on Jerome Garrison (18.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.4 points), Wimbish (7.6 rebounds) and Steve Knox (10.0 points, 7.6 assists, 3.4 steals), but Holloway (8.8 points, 4.0 assists, 4.6 rebounds) has seen more and more time at the point with Knox moving over to shooting guard.
"Stevie can come off screens and shoot the ball," Fleming said. "He shouldn't have to handle the ball for 32 minutes. Jerome can play point, too, so we really have three guys we can go to so depending on the who we have out there."
Holloway, who played junior varsity as a freshman and saw action in one varsity game as a freshman, is relishing the chance to play with the older the players and believes the team is ready to turn the corner.
"This tournament was a good thing for us," he said. "Those two games we lost were a reality check. We know we can't play around."