Without leading scorer Brady Fairbanks, Haskell Indian Nations University’s men’s basketball team didn’t look right Saturday.
As the Indians tried to find out who their new go-to players were, Avila University took advantage and left Coffin Complex with a 73-56 victory.
“The pressure got us,” HINU sophomore guard Luke Lee said.
It was a frustrating day for Haskell (7-8) in many facets of the game. The Indians couldn’t hit easy shots, no matter how close to the basket they were. They made 42 percent of their shots, but they gave the ball away to the Eagles too many times, helping Avila shoot 65 percent.
Haskell coach Chad Kills Crow called this stage of the season “Life without Fairbanks,” referring to the senior forward who is expected to be out the next three games because of a foot injury. Kills Crow said he was looking for players to rise to the occasion and make up for the missing 20 points per game. He saw players grow in maturity, but there were too many mistakes to consider anyone becoming the new go-to guy.
“We’re still trying to seek who those leaders are,” Kills Crow said. “Different guys were just trying too hard tonight.”
Haskell left the first half struggling, but so did Avila (8-6). The Indians started the second half down 11, but it slowly got out of hand as they shot 29 percent in the half. A few three-pointers down the stretch made the score look respectable, but it was too late for a comeback.
Freshman guard Stand Lovato led the Indians with 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Junior guard Trey Osborne, who was aggressive Saturday, added 12. But the Eagles had a more balanced scoring effort with five players in double figures.
Life without Fairbanks will continue for the next three games so he can be rested when conference play starts Jan. 13, Kills Crow said. But the next three games, all away, are against three of the top teams in the country. This is by design.
Kills Crow said his lofty goals for Haskell include winning the conference so the Indians can make the national tournament. Playing bigger teams is the perfect measuring stick, and the next one is Jan. 7 at University of St. Mary.
“With those kinds of goals, I scheduled pretty heavy this year,” he said after the loss to Avila. “This was a good test.”
The funeral service for legendary Haskell coach and educator Phil Homeratha was held at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, so the men’s basketball team was not able to attend because of the 3 p.m. tipoff. Kills Crow regrets missing it, but knowing Homeratha and getting support from the school, he had to coach.
“There’s no way he would allow me to cancel this game on his behalf,” Kills Crow said.
And during the game, he and the players all had the same thing in the back of their minds.
“He was here with us today,” Kills Crow said.