By BRETT MARSHALL
When the Garden City Buffaloes left the floor of The Garden on Dec. 14 following a 58-52 victory over Pueblo (Colo.) East on the final night of the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic, they found themselves poised for a three-week break with a reputable 4-2 win-loss record.
The Buffs were averaging 57 points a game, giving up 49.8 and had put together what coach Jacy Holloway said at the time was the most complete game of the young season.
That was then.
Now, with four games under their belt after that lengthy layoff, the Buffs have since gone 2-2 in the first half of the Western Athletic Conference schedule, losing on the road to Dodge City and at home to WAC favorite Hays High. The two wins have also come at home, against Liberal and Great Bend, both teams of which are struggling.
And in that two week stretch, the Buffs' offense has been lethargic, struggling in nearly every game, averaging a measly 38.5 points, while the defense has stepped it up, too, dropping its average of points yielded to 39.8 points.
So as Holloway and the Buffs prepare to depart today for Valley Center to compete in the January Jam, in an 8:30 p.m. tip-off against host Valley Center (3-5), they will take a 6-4 record into their first-round game.
It has been, in Holloway's words, a roller-coaster season.
"I thought when we played Pueblo East (ranked in the top of Class 4A Colorado schools at the time), that we played within ourselves defensively, and we got enough offensively. Since then, we've been on a roller-coaster of mental and emotional issues. That's happened both in practice and in games."
Going back to the December games in the Southwest Classic, Holloway said the Denver South loss (62-52) left some scarring issues on the Buffs, and they have had a difficult time getting back to where they were early on.
"It's nothing from the locker room or nothing about effort," Holloway said in trying to explain some of the team's struggles. "It's not having five guys working as a cohesive unit. It's one or two guys not buying in, not focusing. We just haven't had all five guys out on the court on the same page."
As a result, Holloway has mixed up his starting lineup in the last few games, bringing seniors Hunter Delgado, Tristan Nanninga and junior Caleb Tramp off the bench while inserting sophomore Jared Koster and juniors Akil Love and Miguel Olivas into the opening lineup.
"The starting lineup has changed, and we're just searching for a combination that will put it together," Holloway said. "We'll probably go back to some of the same guys, but it will not be exactly the same. Some guys are more comfortable, play better when they start, and others are better at coming off the bench. We've just kind to find the right rotation."
Holloway said the three-day January Jam provides the team an opportunity to not only play the three games, but to have some early practice time and the chance to team-build and bond.
"It gives us a chance to just focus on us," Holloway said. "It's a great time to be together. Now is the time for us to put everything together for the final run."
The Buffs finished third at the Jam in 2013, winning the opening round against Junction City (62-59), losing to Olathe Northwest in the semifinals (63-52, overtime) and then taking the consolation game 45-41 over Wichita Northwest.
"When we look at film, we're definitely doing some things better than we did last year, but then there are other things where we're not close," Holloway said. "When we've got everyone working toward the right goal, we're a pretty good basketball team."
The Buffs go in with just one player — the 6-5 junior Tramp — averaging in double figures at 11.1 points. When they were solid offensively in December, they were getting three players to score in double figures.
"Offensively, we've been getting shots, but not getting the best shots," Holloway said. "You don't have to rush things to score points. You just have to be more efficient."
A victory in tonight's opener would put the Buffs in Friday's 8:30 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the Wichita Southeast-Kansas City Turner game. Southeast is the top-seeded team. A loss would put them into the 5 p.m. consolation game against the loser of the Southeast-Turner contest.
In the lower half of the bracket, quarterfinal matchups are Junction City vs. Olathe Northwest at 3:15 p.m. and Blue Valley Northwest vs. Topeka Seaman at 5 p.m.
Lady Buffs/Newton Invitational
The Garden City High School girls basketball team has drawn the No. 6 seed at the 38th Annual Newton Invitational, scheduled to start on Jan. 30 and run through Feb. 1.
The Lady Buffs enter the tournament with an 8-3 season record and will face No. 3-seeded Wichita Bishop Carroll (8-2) at 4:45 p.m. on the opening day of the tournament.
In the other half of the bottom side of the bracket, it will be No. 2 Bishop Miege (8-1) taking on Olathe Northwest at 6:30 p.m.
The top half of the bracket has No. 1-seeded Wichita Kapaun-Mt. Carmel (10-0) facing Dodge City (4-4) at 3 p.m. while Andover Central (8-2) and Newton (7-2) meet in the 8:15 p.m. game between the Nos. 4 and 5 seeded teams.
Semifinals and consolation games will be played on Jan. 31 with championship and consolation games to conclude the tournament on Feb. 1.
A quarterfinal win by the Lady Buffs would put them into the 6:30 p.m. semifinals on Jan. 31 against Miege or Olathe Northwest, while a loss would put them into a 3 p.m. consolation contest against one of those two schools, also on Jan. 31.