NEWMAN — At the opening of Western Athletic Conference play, defending champion Patterson High finds itself in a unique situation.
The Tigers are too talented to lose, as they displayed in Tuesday's conference-opening 68-56 victory at Orestimba, yet not playing together well enough to really control the game.
The latter attribute might come, especially as injured starting center Ronyea Ellington continues to rehab from the ankle injury he suffered during football season.
But in the meantime, Ellington's absence has allowed other players to develop, including some athletes playing varsity basketball for the first time.
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The bottom line is the Tigers will beat you with their athletes in January, and if all goes right, beat you as a solid unit in March.
"We were in the same boat last year, being more athletic than most the teams in our league, but the times in this game when we were able to take the lead, it was because we executed," said Patterson coach Tony Lomeli. "For us to be a good playoff team and first to last through this league, which is tougher than last year, we have to be able the execute for four quarters."
At times, the Tigers (10-3) looked to have the ability to blow the Warriors (10-2) completely off their home court. Patterson took control early with a 12-0 run that spanned the last four minutes of the first quarter and the opening 1:20 of the second quarter, grabbing an 18-8 lead.
And they ran again to open the second half, ripping off a 20-4 blitz to grab a 51-33 lead in the final two minutes of the third quarter.
The constant thread in those runs was a fine balance of patience and dribble penetration — choosing the right moment to attack the basket while staying in control.
"We couldn't stop their dribble penetration," said Orestimba coach Rob Pecot. "We don't have anybody in the middle who can adapt to that. We've been lucky in the preseason, but that will be a problem for us in league."
The first run was spurred by the slashing of swingman Felix Mapanda, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the first half. Kent Foster also had a basket in the run en route to his 20-point output.
The second spurt came more on a drive-and-kick campaign, with Justin Nickolls scoring all of his seven points during the run. Craig Beavers led Orestimba with 20 points.
"We want these guys to attack all the time, but it's hard to tell them to attack and stay under control," Lomeli said. "When we're able to do that, we'll be tough to beat."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.