If Mike Guajardo had planned to come back coach basketball, he probably would have chosen a less volatile time to do it.
But when the Pasco boys program came calling Thursday, the former Bulldogs coach — who led the program to five Big Nine titles and six state appearances from 1981-2000 — couldn’t say no.
“It’s always fun, but this isn’t my preference,” said Guajardo, who accepted the interim coaching post after head coach Charlie Villanueva — a former Guajardo assistant — was placed on leave following an incident at practice Monday. “I appreciate that they think I can help. These are difficult circumstances for everybody.”
Guajardo couldn’t help Pasco much Tuesday night during a 62-52 Mid-Columbia Conference loss to Hanford at Bulldog Gym. Pasco shot just 33 percent (18-for-55) and allowed Falcons shooters to drain a dozen shots from 3-point range — half of them in the first quarter alone.
Jalen Watson hit four of his six 3-pointers for 17 points in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 30 points. He excelled on the defensive end as well, blocking seven shots against a shaky offense that didn’t show a lot of confidence.
“They weren’t really getting out on us. They seemed too focused on offense,” Watson said.
Maybe not focused enough, though. The Bulldogs missed their first nine shots of the night as Hanford grabbed an 8-0 lead, and Watson scored all but five of the team’s 23 points in the quarter.
The Falcons led 23-14 heading into the second quarter when Pasco made its only big run of the game, an 8-2 spurt that brought the Bulldogs to within 25-22 with just over 5 minutes left in the half.
But Hanford drilled four more treys — two by Grant Mickelson — over the next three minutes to extend its lead to 37-24 with 1:50 left in the second quarter.
Watson scored nine more points in the third, including a three-point play with 1:18 remaining the frame to push Hanford’s lead to 49-35.
“Kendall was awesome tonight. We had to work hard to overcome the loss of (forward Jacob) Sivonen,” Falcons coach Paul Mayer said. “We got into some serious foul trouble in the first half, so it was great to be able to overcome that.”
Finally, the Falcons’ 9-3 fouth-quarter run put Pasco away for good.
Ben Seaman had a strong game for the Falcons, collecting 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. Mickelson led Hanford with eight rebounds.
Isaiah Groce and Jesus Razo each scored 11 points to lead Pasco.
But Guajardo is getting his first chance with this Bulldogs’ group, which does have plenty of talent but often lacks discipline.
“I think they’re trying too hard. But I noticed in the three games I’ve coached, we’ve settled in a little better and made some good passes. We’re getting better by leaps and bounds,” Guajardo said. “I think they want to win so bad.”
Mayer expressed some sadness about Villanueva’s sudden leave, but was happy to have the chance to coach against a man he considers a mentor.
“Mike is a legend to me,” said Mayer, now in his 19th season at Hanford. “When I first started coaching, I was able to sit in a clinic he gave. It’s an honor to coach against him.”
Guajardo likes the current playoff system in the MCC, which allows every team — regardless of their regular season record — a playoff berth.
“That’s what I told them,” he said. “We can work some stuff in, but we’ve got to be ready. When we play (those playoff games), they’re going to get the best we are.”
HANFORD — Kendall Watson 30, Ben Seaman 14, Heid 1, Hannu 3, Mickelson 8, Heiman, Sivonen, Ked.Skinner, Sutey 5. Totals 21-59 8-10 62.
PASCO — Isaiah Groce 11, Young 5, A.Correa 5, Chavez 5, Jesus Razo 11, Robinson, Ingram 6, King 6, Shaffer 5, Gutierrez. Totals 18-55 11-22 52.
Hanford 23 14 16 9 — 62
Pasco 14 13 10 15 — 52
Highlights — 3-pointers: H 12 (Watson 6, Seaman 3, Mickelson 2, Sutey), P 5 (Groce 3, A.Correa, Shaffer); Rebounds: H 31 (Mickelson 8), P 36 (Razo 10); Turnovers: H 7, P 11; Watson 7 blocks; Seaman 5 rebounds, 3 assists; Jalen King 3 blocks; Aaron Correa 3 assists.