by nathan oster
The Greybull Buffs couldn’t overcome slow starts last week in games against Class 2A Northwest Conference rivals Rocky Mountain and Thermopolis.
The Buffs dropped both contests, losing to the Grizzlies 55-45 Thursday night in Cowley and to the Bobcats 56-50 Friday night at Buff Gym, and now stand at 6-10 overall, but just 1-4 in conference play.
Coach Jim Prather said he didn’t see the slow starts coming, noting that his kids had turned in a good week of practice, understood the game plan and were familiar with the opponents.
“I thought the ingredients were there for us to come out ready to play from the opening tip, but for some reason, we were a little tentative in both games and it cost us,” he said.
The Buffs knew the Grizzlies would present a challenge, but they had a plan to address the Grizzlies’ strenghs, which are quickness, the ability to spread the floor, beat teams off the dribble and hit from long range when defenses collapse.
The Buffs used a 1-2-2 zone, instead of their more customary 2-3 zone, because Prather wanted them to focus on stopping Rocky’s shooters. It didn’t work, as the Grizzlies buried five triples in the first half alone to build a 28-16 halftime lead.
B. Ward hit four of the five in the first half and finished with a team-high 17 for the Grizzlies.
“Those threes kind of set the tone,” Prather said.
The Buffs had a chance to trim the Rocky lead to 10 at the half, but failed to convert a layup.
By the end of three, Rocky had upped its lead to 16, 43-27.
At the buzzer, 10 points separated the two teams.
The Buffs hit 13 of 44 from the field, 30 percent, but turned it over 24 times.
Prather credited the Grizzlies, saying, “They took what we gave them, which were those perimeter shots early,” he said.
Waytt Good paced the Buffs with 12 points, followed by Calder Forcella and Paul Stewart, each with nine.
The Thermopolis game followed a similar script. The Bobcats led the Buffs 20-8 after one quarter. After that it was a different ballgame. In fact, over the final three quarters the Buffs outscored the Bobcats 42-30.
“Early in the game, their press caused us a lot of problems,” said Prather. “In the locker room at half, we characterized the turnovers as ‘unforced errors.’ We didn’t throw it where we normally would throw it. And against a team like that, if you are not accurate or are tentative with your passes, they will swoop into the passing lanes and cause turnovers.”
Like Rocky, Thermopolis made the Buffs pay from long range, sinking seven three-pointers.
The Buffs trailed by eight at the half, but a 16-5 run got them within two, 39-37, heading into the final minute of the third quarter. The Grizzlies closed out the frame with the final two baskets, however. Both were threes, the last one tickling the twine just as time expired.
“Those were daggers, for sure,” said Prather. “One of them was made by a kid who, I don’t know if he’s shot a three all year long. … He caught the ball, threw it up at the last instant, and it went in. When you dig yourself a hole, like we did, plays like that can make it seem insurmountable.”
Paul Stewart led the Buffs with 14, while Payton Gonzalez netted nine.
The two losses were crippling to the Buffs’ chances of avoiding the regional pigtail game.
But Prather said his team walked out of the gym both nights feeling good.
“We were competitive with both teams — and both of them, as well as ourselves (if we win the pigtail game) will be at regionals,” he said. “We’re going to have to play one of them to continue our season. The kids believe that if we can iron out a few rough spots, we can play with those two teams.”
Prather also credited his team for shooting 42 percent in the Thermopolis game.
The Buffs have played more games, 16, than any other team in the conference to this point in the season. So having just one game, a road trip to Tongue River on Saturday, may seem a bit unusual.
The Eagles “are similar to Rocky and Thermopolis in that they don’t have a lot of size, but are athletic. They like to play a full-court, pressure defense and shoot a lot of threes. Their pace is up-tempo. They like to score a lot of points.
“Their new gym has been a tough place for us to play. For whatever reason, we haven’t gone over the hill and guarded well. For us to compete, we have to defend. If the game is in the 70s, it won’t work in our favor.”
Greybull 6 10 11 18 – 45
Rocky Mt. 12 16 15 12 – 55
GREYBULL – Payton Gonzalez 2 5-8 9, Calder Forcella 1 7-10 9, Wyatt Good 4 3-4 11, Quinton Haley 1 1-2 3, Paul Stewart 3 3-5 9, Fabian Davila 1 0-2 2, Aidan Jenness 1 0-0 2. Totals 13 19-31 45.
ROCKY MT. – Jewell 3 1-4 7, Bernhisel 2 1-1 6, Wocicki 2 2-4 7, Winland 6 4-10 16, Ward 6 0-0 17, Simmons 1 0-4 2. Totals 20 8-23 55.
3-POINT GOALS – Ward 5, Bernhisel, Wocicki. REBOUNDS – Greybull 40 (Haley 12). STEALS – Greybull 10 (Good 3). ASSISTS – Greybull 6 (Forcella 3). TURNOVERS – 19.
Thermop 20 8 17 11 – 56
Greybull 8 13 16 13 – 50
THERMOP – Thomas 5 2-3 14, Abbott 5 2-4 15, Haun 2 0-0 4, Bridges 1 0-0 3, Conner 2 1-2 5, Schmidt 6 0-0 11, Cornwell 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 5-9 56.
GREYBULL – Gonzalez 4 0-0 9, Forcella 3 0-0 8, Good 3 0-0 6, Haley 3 0-0 6, Stewart 7 0-0 14, Treston Tracy 2 2-2 7. Totals 22 2-2 50.
3-POINT GOALS – Schmidt 3, Thomas 2, Abbott, Bridges; Forcella 2, Gonzalez, Tracy. REBOUNDS – Greybull 30 (Forcella 9). STEALS – Greybull 6 (Stewart 3). ASSISTS – Greybull 10 (Forcella 5). TURNOVERS – Greybull 14.