The Tijuana Zonkeys just completed the second home series of the season. The striped donkeys hosted the Halcones de Obregon last Saturday, April 8, and Sunday, April 9, at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez in Tijuana. The border city side had been having an excellent campaign heading into this match, but was facing a very tough Obregon side. The Halcones count with a very strong roster, including a former-NBA player in Glen Rice Jr., who played in basketball’s top circuit with the Washington Wizards. The two-game set was thrilling, offering some of the best basketball seen in the CIBACOPA competition all year long. Here is what went on at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez last weekend.
Game 1: Hard-Fought Victory
There was a surprisingly nice amount of people at the Auditorio, filling almost all of it on Saturday night. The ‘Burro-Zebras’ were in for a tough match after a six-game road stand and the fans were eager to see their team play at home. Right from tip-off, the game presented an intensity and quick pace. The Zonkeys did struggle in the first period and were down by a score of 27-22 after the first 10 minutes. In the second quarter, Tijuana got back into the game and was up 48-41 by the end of it. The crowd was vibrant at the auditorium, the fans wanting the win as much as the players. From the second period on, the Zonkeys maintained their lead. Going into the fourth and final quarter of the game, Tijuana was up 71-62.
The fourth quarter was the most exciting, Obregon almost making a comeback led by Glen Rice Jr., who was not missing any opportunities. For Tijuana, Leon Gibson III and Marcus Morrison made a significant impact defensively, getting to the rebounds. The last few seconds were intense, but the Zonkeys came out on top, winning the game 92-88, and winning their third consecutive game. This was also their fourth victory at home, being undefeated at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez up to this point. Marcus Morrison and Trayvon Lathan turned out to be the biggest contributors of the night. The captain, Morrison, ended the night with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, while Lathan had 20 points and five rebounds.
Other notable performances were by Leon Gibson III, who finished the game with eight rebounds, and Luis Ramirez, who scored 14 points off the bench. Cesar Martin Del Campo was also making his debut with the team. The youngster is a native of Tijuana and only played six minutes on the court, getting himself three rebounds. The game was one of the best victories for Tijuana this season and provided a great spectacle for the home crowd.
While the Zonkeys were the best team on the court on Saturday night, the best player by far was Obregon’s Glen Rice Jr. The former Washington Wizard had 28 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists, playing the entire 40 minutes of the game. The ex-NBA player spoke to EVT Sports after the game about the loss and the competitiveness of the league. On the loss, Rice said, “I feel we did some good things, close game, at the end we just didn’t put it all together as a team, but we’ll be back tomorrow”. The Miami native also gave his thoughts on the competitiveness of the CIBACOPA. Rice said, “It’s real competitive. It’s up there with the leagues I’ve played in, especially the D-League. It’s a hell of a league”.
Tijuana Zonkeys’ point-guard also spoke to EVT Sports about the big victory on Saturday night, amongst other things like team chemistry and coming up against a former NBA player. On the victory, Gardner said “Any win is a win if we win by one or 10. It’s a hard-fought game, tough team. I think we played good. We fought, fought to the end, and came away with the victory.” The former Arkansas State Red Wolf also gave his thoughts on going head-to-head with ex-NBA player, Glen Rice Jr. Gardner said, “I treat everybody the same. They lace up the shoes the same way I do. It’s good to compare your talents to where you need to be but I just take it as another day.” Sean also spoke about the six-game road stand and how it helped build chemistry. Gardner said, “Six games in about two and a half weeks, on the road, it’s a lot. Hanging out off the court, messing around on the bus, all of that adds to team chemistry”.
Game 2: Home Court Falls Short
While fewer people did go to the Sunday night game, the Auditorio Municipal was as vivid and loud as ever. The attendance was still impressive for a Sunday night game. Right from the beginning, the Halcones started dominating the Zonkeys, the first quarter ending with Tijuana down 33-24. That nine-point deficit from the first period went on to haunt the ‘Burro-Zebras’ for the rest of the night. The game was far from easy for the visiting side, feeling the pressure from the home crowd all night long. Obregon’s head coach, Eduardo Opezo, received two warnings in the game and was losing his mind yelling at the officials. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the away team had an 11-point advantage over Tijuana, leading 76-65. The encounter was one of the most exciting and physical games of the season. Obregon’s Mike Glover was suspended from the game for earning five personal fouls. Glover was furious and was even taunting the home support, making the L sign with his hand and directly telling fans “You’re going to lose anyway”.
The game grew intense in the final moments, the Zonkeys narrowing the deficit to two points in the dying seconds of the encounter. The final half-minute of the game seemed endless, with timeout after timeout by both sides. Obregon missed some key free throws, but so did Tijuana. At the final buzzer, the Zonkeys did end up losing in front of an incredible home crowd who gave it their all that night. The home-court advantage was felt at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez. Unfortunately, it was not enough to secure the series sweep against Obregon.
Glen Rice Jr. did have another huge performance to propel his team to victory, netting 29 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Marcus Morrison and Leon Gibson III were by far the best players on the Zonkeys. The captain, Morrison, ended the encounter with 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, while Gibson had 23 points, eight rebounds, and an assist. Sen Gardner had a nice game after a rough game on Saturday night, netting himself 14 points with three assists. Garner’s distribution as the point-guard was also magnificent, which is impressive considering that Sean played mostly as a shooting guard in college. Despite, the loss, the game turned out to be one of the most incredible encounters of the CIBACOPA season. The match exemplified how thrilling a CIBACOPA can be and the competitiveness that Glen Rice Jr. was referring to when comparing the CIBACOPA to the D-League.
The two top players of the game for the Zonkeys, Marcus Morrison and Leon Gibson III, spoke to EVT Sports about the intense game and about the home-court advantage. When I asked Morrison how he felt after the game, Morrison said, “Exhausted. I’m very tired. Those guys are very physical, they play hard, they fight hard, and they make you work hard. It was a hard-fought series, we wanted to win both, but 1-1 isn’t bad. We’re just going to keep moving, keep trying to get better from here.” On the home-court advantage, Morrison said, “It’s real big man. Sometimes the crowd can be quiet in the beginning, but fourth quarter they really come alive, they really wake up. That’s how it is every time. You gotta love the home-court. They give us a lot of energy”.
On the same topics, Leon Gibson III also gave his input. On the loss, Gibson said, “It’s tough we fought back, we ended up losing by four, we missed free throws, I missed open shots also. We just have to come back to practice harder and get them next time”. On the home-court advantage, Gibson said, “Aww man, our fans are awesome! They helped us to get them to miss free throws. If we would have capitalized and made our free throws it would have been a different game. At the end of the day we lost. I’m proud of our team for fighting, but we just came up short, that’s all”.
The Zonkeys will now have an eight-day break and then will play four games on the road. Morrison and Gibson also gave their thoughts on the upcoming break and how they will prepare. Morrison said, “We’re going to probably rest on Monday and get back to work Tuesday, stick our nose down and get back to grinding”. Leon Gibson III said, “We’re about to get this break, rest our bodies, basically just heal, recuperate, and then come back for the next part of the season and just go hard.”
The Tijuana Zonkeys have proven to be one of the best teams in the CIBACOPA campaign. After this series, the border city side sits in second place with 18 points, just a point behind Rayos de Hermosillo in first place. The ‘Burro-Zebras’ will have a four-game road stand in Sinaloa against Navolato and Culiacan, then will come back home at the end of the month to face Nauticos de Mazatlan. Vamos Zonkeys!