Only 14-point scorer and Sacramento State-bound forward Bryce Fowler was a given for Avondale Agua Fria basketball coming off last year's Division II finals appearance.
While figuring out the rest of the attack, second-year coach Randy Lavender made sure the Owls still play sticky defense, even though they do not crank up the full court pressure as often.
Agua Fria's ability to box in Deer Valley star junior Bryce Davis with its zone while closing out on the Skyhawks' shooters frustrated the home team for most of Tuesday night's 49-39 victory for the visitors.
"The credit goes to Agua Fria. Randy did a very good job with the defensive game plan and his kids did a very good job of pressuring Bryce," Deer Valley coach Jed Dunn said.
Agua Fria (11-5, 1-1 Desert West Region) needed this one following a roller coaster opening week of 2017 and played like it. Two days after knocking off consensus 5A top five team Scottsdale Chaparral in triple overtime, the Owls suffered a letdown in Friday's 52-50 upset loss at Verrado.
Staring at 0-2 in the region with another road game against the league co-favorite, the visitors sustained their defensive intensity throughout.
"I saw a lot of urgency tonight," Coach Lavender said. "We went down (to Verrado) and let one get away."
Davis got to the line early and showed a mid-range game in scoring nine of the Skyhawks' 16 first half points. But Deer Valley (12-6, 1-1) often passed the ball around the perimeter, with little success unlocking the zone.
Fowler carried the Owls offense early, scoring 13 of his team's first 17 points. Junior Duron McNeal, freshman McArthur Osborne and senior Derrick Charles chipped in with a bucket each to end the half and grow the lead to 23-16.
McNeal and Daniel Foster, the junior guards who have emerged to support Fowler, jump started the Owls offense right before and shortly after halftime. Their penetration set up several layups and trips to the line.
"They're important guys. I put a lot of pressure on them and they came through today," Coach Lavender said.
After falling behind 28-18 midway through the third quarter, the Skyhawks finally unlocked their offense — mostly with offensive rebounding. Sophomore Phoenix Thunderbird transfer Ethan Cashion (a game-high seven boards) rebounded a missed free throw to set up junior shooter Deven Breckner's only three-pointer of the night.
It was the first regular season game for Cashion and sophomore forward and Phoenix Trevor Browne transfer Brandon Savage. But both played over winter break as the Skyhawks won the Jared Frame Memorial Cactus Jam tournament.
Sophomore forward Dez Melton's putback just before the buzzer to end the third drew Deer Valley within three at 30-27. Early in the fourth Melton did it again, was fouled and made the free throw to make it 33-30 Owls.
Breckner's two free throws cut the Skyhawks' deficit to one. But Foster (10 points) calmly drained a trey and Fowler (a game-high 19 points) dunked after Agua Fria broke the press.
Deer Valley could not charge back again. and as Foster and Fowler put the game away, the difference was clear to Coach Dunn.
Agua Fria consistently took away what Davis, Breckner and fellow junior Ari Danzy do best and slowed the Skyhawks pace. Deer Valley's defense failed to make life as hard for Fowler, Foster and McNeal.
"I don't think we can win against a good team with that effort," Coach Dunn said. "The three kids they have as offensive threats are really good and have played together a long time."