What Lady Panthers head coach Gilbert Mascareñas likes about the 5-foot-9 junior is that she doesn't necessarily want to be the focal point of the offense.
Carly Gonzales might be one of the best post players in Class 2A, but she is so much more than that to the Peñasco Lady Panthers. She doesn't just give Peñasco an inside presence on both ends of the court. She can lead the break after grabbing a rebound on the defensive end. She can find the open shooter on the perimeter or the cutter on the backside.
If anything, Gonzales is the glue to a Peñasco team that has aspirations of achieving the goal they came one win away from accomplishing in March - a state title.
What Lady Panthers head coach Gilbert Mascareñas likes about the 5-foot-9 junior is that she doesn't necessarily want to be the focal point of the offense. Mascareñas, though, makes sure that she is.
"I tell Carly, 'If you're dominating inside, what's that going to do?' " Mascareñas said. " 'That's gonna open up the outside for our shooters.' And I tell my shooters, 'Everybody's gonna sag in on Carly. That's why she's our primary [option].' So I need my shooters to find Carly, and then that just opens everything up."
In the semifinal of the Northern Rio Grande Tournament in Pojoaque Valley's Ben Lujan Gymnasium on Friday night, Gonzales was in rare form as she collected a double-double - she finished with 20 points and 20 rebounds as the Lady Panthers rolled past Dulce, 74-57.
Peñasco advances to its second straight tournament title appearance where it will take on Pecos, a 47-31 winner over Mora, for the title at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Gonzales was almost unstoppable in the first quarter, scoring 11 points that included a 7-for-8 performance at the free-throw line.
She was especially happy with that stat, because she felt early in the season that her free-throw shooting was a weakness.
"At the beginning of the season, I wasn't good at free throws, percentage wise," Gonzales said.
"I know that momentum can start building if I start making free throws. That allows me to do well. I feel like if I start making my free throws, the defense has to do something to stop that."
There aren't a lot of weaknesses in her game. She's fluid in transition, regularly takes on double teams and still finds ways to score, and she's become a more adept ball handler. Gonzales showed that against the Lady Hawks, often grabbing a rebound and immediately dribbling the other way to start the fast break. She had a couple of assists in the fourth quarter when she found both Adrianna Tafoya and Alaska Lopez for breakaway layups on consecutive possessions. It helped build the Lady Panthers' lead to 64-44 with 6:28 left in the game.
"I told Carly last year that sometimes our guards are a little preoccupied here [in the backcourt]," Mascareñas said. "Then, it's on Carly. But I can use her as a guard also. She's not just a big, she's also a guard."
For all that Gonzales has done on the court, one of the most challenging moments last year was when she suffered an ankle injury. She battled shinsplints for the latter half of the track and field season, putting a damper on what was a stellar sophomore year. She won the Class 1A/2A individual title in cross-country as she helped the Lady Panthers to the team crown and was a first-team 2A All-State player in basketball as Peñasco reached the 2A championship game.
Gonzales kept right on working, competing with the basketball team through its summer camp schedule while also training for the cross-country season. It wasn't until she injured her ankle in July that Gonzales finally took a break for a month - much to her chagrin.
"I was like, 'Oh, that puts me behind everybody else by a month,' " Gonzales said.
Mascareñas said the injury was a blessing in disguise because it allowed Gonzales's body to fully heal.
"That rest helped her out because she had to stop pushing her body," Mascareñas said. "She's doing cross-country, volleyball, basketball [and] track and she's not going to tell anyone she's hurting. When she twisted her ankle, she didn't even tell me she did it. She just wanted to keep going."
The only problem was that Gonzales couldn't get the injury out of her head. It affected her in cross-country, as she placed 10th and Peñasco failed to repeat as team champion. Gonzales admitted that it wasn't until recently that she finally put the injury to bed in her head.
"Even my family was saying, 'You're OK now, it's just you,' " Gonzales said. "It's me. I think now that I finally understand that, it's not in my head."
Mascareñas said when the team's volleyball season ended at the district tournament, he told players like Gonzales, Tafoya and Lopez to take the week off before basketball practice began. The break helped the Lady Panthers get off to a strong start. They nabbed wins over 4A teams in Taos and Bernalillo, then rallied from a 14-point deficit to beat 3A Santa Fe Indian School, 49-47, in the semifinals of the Ben Lujan Tournament in mid-December.
Now, the Lady Panthers can take care of business against Pecos, a team that also harbors dreams of a deep run in the 2A state tournament.
"It's going to be a good game," Mascareñas said. "It's not going to be a blowout."
Chances are, Gonzales will have a say in some fashion in the outcome Saturday night.
This story first published in The Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.
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