ELKO – The Elko boys basketball team has not tasted defeat against a league opponent for more than two calendar years, running the table for the second-consecutive season in the Division I-A North with a 16-0 record.
The Indians’ journey toward their fifth-straight league championship and trip to the state tournament will get underway Friday night.
In order to win the regional crown for the fifth time in as many years, Elko will need two wins, which would push the Tribe’s consecutive-game streak over league opponents to an impressive mark, 38 in a row.
Due to the format change in the regional tournament and the top six teams qualifying, the Indians received a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed, winning the regular-season championship for the fifth-straight year.
The No. 2 seed Lowry Buckaroos were also inactive Thursday, playing their first contest against the winner of the No. 6 Spring Creek/No. 3 South Tahoe winner.
Elko’s opponent will either be the No. 4 Fernley Vaqueros or the No. 5 Fallon Greenwave, both of which have been beaten by the Indians twice during the regular season.
When asked which team he expected to play or would rather face, Elko head coach Chris Klekas said “it’s a toss-up,” adding that he did not know which team he thought would win Thursday’s quarterfinal matchup.
Going by seeding, Fernley has the upper hand – but Elko dismantled the Vaqueros with more ease in the first two meetings.
While Fallon is the No. 5 seed, the Greenwave gave the Indians the closer games during the regular season.
A big key to Elko’s 60-39 win at home Jan. 9 over the Vaqueros, as well as the Indians’ 55-23 victory Feb. 6 on the road at Fernley, was defense. Elko held the Vaqueros scoreless in the second period in the last matchup, allowing just five points in the fourth quarter.
In two games, the Indians limited sophomore Zach Burns to 12 points total, seven in the first meeting and five in the second. He is the second-leading scorer in the I-A North at 16 points per game, a number that had floated around 18 all season, dwindled thanks in large part to Elko’s stingy performances.
While Fernley has the second-leading leading scorer in the I-A North, Elko has the top man on the list – junior point guard Eric Klekas – who scores at a 23-point clip.
During his sophomore season, Klekas led Elko with 66 3s. He has already knocked down 91 triples this year.
In the first meeting against Fernley, Klekas dropped a game-high 26 points, splashing five shots from distance. In the second meeting, he led all scorers with 24 points, finishing with four 3s.
He leads the Indians with four assists and three steals per game, adding 6.5 rebounds per contest.
Elko has two other players averaging double figures, junior Kyrin Allen and senior Dustin Baum.
Allen scores 11 points per contest – pulling down a team-high 7.4 rebounds, leading the Tribe with one block and adding two steals per contest.
Baum averages 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal – but even more importantly is his leadership on the floor.
When Baum did not play in the first meeting against Fallon on Jan. 8, his absence was noticed, and the Indians had to come from behind and pulled off a tight, 51-47 victory – thanks in large part to two huge threes by junior Cole Smith in the fourth period.
Klekas led Elko with 16 points – knocking down two triples – and Elko used runs in the third quarter to take a lead and again in the fourth to regain it, surviving with a tough win.
The Greenwave, after dismissing several players and their leading scorer for violations of team rules, have actually played some of their best basketball of the season – going 3-5 with their new lineup and introduction of former reserves after starting league play with a 4-4 mark.
The Indians received another solid effort by the Greenwave on Feb. 5 on the road at Fallon, winning 61-50. While the outcome was never in question as much as it was in the first meeting, the Greenwave never went away either. Every Elko flurry was answered with a Fallon run, but after the Greenwave cut Elko’s lead down to three at 32-29 in the third period – the Indians maintained a seven-point to double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.
Klekas led all scorers with 27 points – burying six shots from deep – one from about 30 feet.
While the Indians await their opponent, whether its Fernley or Fallon, they also know they will play without junior guard Angelo Jones, who is probably Elko’s best on-ball defender.
Jones is still gimpy after suffering a serious ankle sprain in Elko’s 61-41 victory over Sparks on Jan. 30. His status availability is still unknown for next week, if the Indians can qualify for the state tournament.
“Angelo’s ankle sprain was a pretty bad one. We’re not sure if he would be able to play next week if we make it to state, but we know we will not have him in the regional tournament,” said coach Klekas. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We still have to rebound the basketball and play good defense. Everyone is 0-0 at this point, and one loss sends you home. The Friday game always makes me nervous.”
The Vaqueros and Greenwave tipped off at 8 p.m. Thursday with a chance to advance to the regional semifinal.
The Indians will play their first game of the tournament in the regional semifinal at 8 p.m. Friday at North Valleys High School in Reno.
A win would stamp Elko’s fifth-consecutive trip to the regional final and fifth-straight berth to the state tournament.