By Tony Altobelli
Killeen Daily Herald
"If they don't score, the worst thing that can happen is that they can tie you." Longtime Killeen football coach Leo Buckley.
While a "0" on a basketball scoreboard is a little too much to ask for, the 2005-06 Kangaroos are doing everything in their powers to make life miserable for the opponents' offense.
That hard work is paying off big time. The Roos (20-7, 5-0 in District 16-4A) are winners of 13 straight following Friday night's 80-66 win at Brownwood, sparked largely on their relentless defense.
Is the era of the offensive-minded "Runnin' Roos" a thing of the past?
Hardly. The Roos are still averaging 70.5 points per game during the streak, while holding the opposition to 50.5 PPG.
"Playing defense at Killeen isn't a new concept here and it's not like we're slowing down their offensive looks," first-year KHS coach Jason Fossett said. "(Former coach Bo Burgess) used to talk a lot about the defensive end as well. We're just doing it in a different way and the kids have really taken to it."
That type of enthusiasm wasn't expressed by the players right away. The combination of learning the new system, a new coach and a relentless early nondistrict schedule (12 of Killeen's first 14 opponents were 5A teams several of which were state ranked at one time or another) provided some rather unsettling moments in Roo country.
Perhaps the lowest point of the season came on the road against Round Rock McNeil, where the Roos fell to the Mavericks 56-46. In that game, several comfortable leads by Killeen were answered with offensive runs by McNeil, caused by a lack of defensive togetherness by all five players on the floor.
Frustrations were mounting, both by the players and coaching staff.
"We were teetering on the edge," Fossett said. "We'd have three guys doing their job, but two guys would be out of position, or just a step or two late and that would result in easy layups.
"This team could have gone either way at that point."
So what turned things around?
Like the old saying, "winning cures everything."
"The players needed to understand what coach Fossett was trying to instill out there," assistant coach Chuck Summers said. "You can have all the athletic ability in the world, but if it's not being used to its fullest potential, it's a waste."
Four days later, the Roos traveled to Hill College and thumped Ferris 63-45 and the streak was underway.
"We know that if we apply good defensive pressure, the offense will take care of itself," senior point guard Benjamin Pitts said.
From there, the Roos ripped off four straight at the Gatesville Holiday Classic to successfully defend their tourney title, holding the opposition to 52 points per game.
"It's about working together and wanting it more than our opponent," senior post Jordan Brown said.
Following three more wins over Leander Vista Ridge (71-33), Austin Lanier (76-57) and Austin Reagan (69-50), the Roos opened District 16-4A play with an 84-67 win at Lampasas, scoring a bunch of points off of Badger turnovers.
"We try to get on'em quick and really apply the pressure early," sophomore guard Tre Nichols said.
A 22-turnover effort for the "D" resulted in a 52-39 win over Hewitt Midway, pushing the streak to 10 straight.
"We really work hard on our defense in practice," senior guard Avery Smith said. "We still have to get better if we want to continue to succeed."
The crowning jewel of the streak came with a 67-58 win at Ellison, snapping the Eagles' eight-game win streak over the Roos. In fact, 10 of Killeen's 13 wins have come away from the Roos' gym. They finish 16-4A play with four out of five at home.
"It's all about intensity for us, working hard and forcing turnovers," junior guard Chris Saunders said.
With Brown, Nichols and Saunders highlighting the offense, Fossett knows the defensive effort by Pitts and Smith are equally important to the Roos' success.
"They both do the dirty work that doesn't necessarily show up on the stat sheets," Fossett said. "The last 13 games, their effort has been tremendous."
So what exactly is the secret to this defense? "It's all about five guys working together, knowing where everyone is and knowing what to do in certain situations," Fossett said. "Sometimes we press, sometimes we don't. It's about giving different looks and forcing the opposition into doing something they don't want to do.
"We feel that if we can hold the opposition to under 55 points per game, we're going to win a bunch of them. We know we have some solid athletic talent here. It's a matter of using it to the best of their ability.
"All I ask of my players is for the two hours I have them, give me effort and work as hard as you can."
The Roos will try for their 14th in a row at home against Lampasas on Tuesday night, beginning at 7 p.m.
MOVING PART FOR THE STORY
THE "STREAK" BY THE NUMBERS
Date Opponent Score Factoid
Dec. 20 Ferris 63-45 Held Ferris to six points in 2nd quarter.
Dec. 28 Whitney 104-62 Only 23 points allowed in second half
Dec. 29 Jarrell 52-50 Gave state's third-ranked 2A team 1st loss (18-1)
Dec. 29 Burnet 64-38 Held Burnet to 12 first-half points
Dec. 30 Marble Falls 76-58 Led 37-22 at the half
Dec. 31 Vista Ridge 71-33 22-2 run; 22 Ranger turnovers
Jan. 3 Austin Lanier 76-57 Forced 21 Lanier turnovers
Jan. 6 Austin Reagan 69-50 Outscored Raiders 22-11 in 2nd quarter
Jan. 13 Lampasas 84-67 Jumped out early, led 44-30 at half
Jan. 17 Midway 52-39 Held to 9 points in first quarter, 3 in 3rd
Jan. 20 Ellison 67-58 Snapped Eagles' 8-game win streak over KHS
Jan. 24 University 59-34 Held University to two third-quarter points
Jan. 27 Brownwood 80-66 Held Lions to just 24 points in first half
n Opponents scoring average 50.5 PPG
n Roos scoring average 70.5 PPG
n Of the 13 games won in a row, only three have been at home.