by nathan oster
As impressive as his team’s 78-51 win Friday night in Thermopolis was, it was the work the Greybull Buffs put in during their holiday break practices that left the biggest impression on their head coach, Jim Prather.
“When you’ve been coaching as long as I have, you see the gamut — and I have,” he said. “Every team is different. I’ve seen some kids come in and waste time during the break. But this team, they were focused, locked in … they understood what we were trying to do and they got better in practice. As a result, I felt confident we were going to go down there and play well.
“For a conference game, on the road, first time back after the holidays, they certainly did that,” said the coach, whose team now stands at 8-1 overall and 1-0 in the Class 2A Northwest Conference. “It all started with the preparation.”
The “six fantastic practices” over the holiday break couldn’t have come at a better time. In their final game of 2013, the boys suffered their first and only loss of the season, falling 66-45 to Burlington, the top-ranked 1A team in the state.
Thermopolis didn’t pose as many challenges as the Huskies, but in Tyler Cornwell and Skyler Thomas, the Bobcats have two very legitimate scoring threats. They were the focal point of the Gryebull defense.
Cornwell finished with 19, Thomas 15. Both did most of their damage in the second half, though, when the game was no longer in doubt. Greybull led 22-9 after one and 42-18 at the intermission.
“In scouting them, we knew they were an athletic team and that they ran a lot of their offense through their two primary players,” said Prather. “Initially on defense, we wanted to control where the ball was going to go — and our press did a fantastic job of that.
“And beyond that, we wanted to limit the number of shots Cornwell and Thomas got, and our 1-3-1 zone did that quite well in the first half. They got loose a little in the second half, but by then the game was firmly in our control.”
On their end, the Buffs dominated. As a team, they shot 53 percent from the field, including 58 percent from two-point range. On top of that, their 30 baskets came on 27 assists, a percentage “that shows their willingness to work together. Five kids working together are tougher to guard than just one. The kids have bought into that concept.”
Kason Clutter lit it up for the Buffs, finishing with 18 points. Payton Gonzalez was next in line with 12, followed by Paul Stewart with 11.
The win was a big one for the Buffs, who have games this weekend against another conference rival in Lovell and the aforementioned Huskies. Both games will be played on the Buffs’ home court, though.
Lovell, according to Prather, “will be the biggest team we play all year,” which is going to present some challenges. “We have a little size, with Treston (Tracy) and Kason (Clutter) around the basket. We don’t match up with them well in the paint. So we’ll have to make sure we can do the other things we like to do — like press and push the ball away from the bucket.”
The Bulldogs are the reigning 2A champs, and while they lost their entire starting five to graduation, they have a tradition of putting “skilled athletes” on the floor. “They have a new coach, a new system, and they getting acclimated to that. I suspect they’re going to keep getting better and better as the season progresses. I’m glad we’re playing them now, so early in the year.”
On the plus side, the Buffs are “as healthy as we’ve been all season,” with Wyatt Nielson returning from a knee injury and Fabian Davila working his way back into the lineup after joining the team a few weeks into the season. Both players should get varsity minutes and further enhance the team’s depth.
On Saturday the Buffs get another shot at Burlington.
“It’ll help if we’re coming off a good game Friday night,” said Prather. “Our focus, however, will be Lovell. Some of the things that were exposed as areas where we needed work have hopefully been addressed and fixed and will show up against both Lovell and Burlington.
Greybull 22 20 24 12 — 78
Thermop 9 9 19 14 — 51
GREYBULL — Payton Gonzalez 4 2-2 12, Colten Flitner 2 1-2 5, Calder Forcella 1 0-0 2, Kason Clutter 7 3-4 18, Ryan Sylvester 3 1-2 7, Paul Stewart 5 1-5 11, Zack Zeller 2 2-3 6, Bryce Wright 2 0-0 4, Logan Jensen 1 2-4 4, Treston Tracy 4 1-2 9. Totals 31-58 13-24 78.
THERMOPOLIS — S. Thomas 5 3-4 15, A. Rush 1 1-2 3, T. Cornwell 7 4-4 19, J. Rolling 2 2-5 6, Schaffer 4 0-1 8, E. Harold 0 0-1 0. Totals 19 10-17 51.
3-POINT GOALS — Gonzalez 2, Clutter; Thomas 2, Cornwell.
REBOUNDS — Greybull 40 (Tracy 11). STEALS — Greybull 13 (Sylvester, Wright 3). ASSISTS — Greybull 27 (Stewart 7). TURNOVERS — Greybull 14.