The schedule shows only nine games left in Amphi’s regular season after Tuesday’s important 70-59 win over Palo Verde at Amphi Gym, including one game against the Titans at McKale Center on Jan. 21 during the MLK Classic.
No question, the outcome was important, improving the sixth-ranked Panthers to 12-2 overall and 2-0 in region play while dropping No. 9 Palo Verde out of first place with a 3-1 region record and 12-3 overall.
“Division games are always battles, they’re a top 10 team and we’re a top 10 team,” Amphi coach Ben Hurley said. “You try to get to that ultimate goal of being high in the rankings before the season’s over. It’s a home game. You’ve got to win the home games. I knew it was going to be a fight.
“To come out on top, it feels good.”
The game went from a back-and-forth affair in the first half to Amphi pulling away and in the third quarter and ending strong in the final period.
Amphi’s senior guard Jackson Ruai — who had a fun trash-talking battle with Palo Verde guard Zion Sandoval throughout — helped the Panthers keep pace early, scoring 15 of his 20 points in the first half when the Panthers clung to a 28-27 halftime lead. He finished with a double-double, pulling down 10 rebounds.
The turning point in the game was in the third quarter when Amphi outscored the Titans 18-10 to take a 46-37 lead into the fourth quarter.
The Panthers’ Lil’Jack Davis — that’s right, Lil’Jack is his first name — and Cohen Kimmel each had eight points in the third quarter. Davis had 14 of his 19 points in the second half. Kimmel scored 13 of his 17 points after halftime.
“We came into the locker room and talked and they told me to do the dirty work,” Davis said. “I told them, ‘Alright I’ll try to get a rebound. If not, I’ll just cut to the basket and hope they look for me. If not, I’ll get the rebound and put it back.
Sandoval finished with a game-high 30 points for Palo Verde, mixing in tough drives to the hoop and long-range 3-pointers.
“We play on the same club team so we’ve always been going against each other since the beginning,” said Ruai, who immediately sought Sandoval for a hug after the game. “When we go against each other, we go after each other. After the game, we’re brothers and friends off the court.”
Ruai is not one for being mild-mannered anyway, so his trash-talking with Sandoval happened in context. He is vocal and jumps and runs with a non-stop motor.
“I just try to have fun with it because at the end of the day, at one time, the ball’s going to stop bouncing,” he said. “So I just try to have as much fun as I can.”
Fun is what Davis has with his first name. It has not been burdensome for him although people ask him if that is his real name.
“My dad’s name is Jackie. Instead of having me ‘Junior,’ they have me as ‘Lil’Jack,'” Davis said. “I have to show my ID.”
Next up for Davis is a game against his former school, Pueblo, on Thursday. Davis transferred to Amphi to complete his high school career.
“That’s my old school so I want to go in there and kill them and get it over with,” Davis said.
Palo Verde next hosts Rio Rico tomorrow. Since starting 0-5, Rio Rico has gone 8-4.