The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies came into the Big Horn Basin Shootout last week knowing that finally seeing live game action after three weeks of practice would give them plenty of things to work on in the weeks ahead. Indeed, while the Grizz won two of three games, they now know areas in which they can improve.
“We had a pretty good practice plan built by halftime of the Wind River game,” Coach Michael Simmons said, referring to his squad’s opening-day opponent. “We always see things we need to work on more. We had already anticipated some things, but as the kids play the games they start to see it and we don’t have to do as much convincing as a staff because they’ve seen it.
“We met yesterday (Monday) and asked them what we need to improve on to help us build a practice plan, and our lists (players and coaches) were identical. Only certain (shooting) percentage benchmarks were different.”
The Grizz defeated Wind River Friday evening and Kemmerer Saturday morning, then fell to Big Piney Saturday evening.
Areas the players and coaches agreed on for improvement include:
•Rebounding and physical play – Simmons said the Grizz were outrebounded by seven over the course of three games but hope to improve on the boards as the season progresses, not being so woefully undersized as in past years.
“We feel we can win the boards most nights,” Simmons said. “That’s one of the goals we agreed to reach.”
•Turnovers – “We weren’t horrible, but with a lack of pressure on us we probably could do a little bit better,” Simmons said. “We realize we’ve got to take care of possessions.”
•Free throw percentage – Simmons said the Grizz have been shooting pretty well in practice but need to do better in games. He was pleased to see the team reach the goal of getting to the line 20 times or more in two of the three games. He said fatigue played a role in the number slipping to 12 in the Big Piney game, leading to the players not being as aggressive.
•Shooting – Simmons said players and coaches know the team has good shooters and have recognized that shooting percentage will rise with better shot selection.
Lovell topped Wind River 68-53 Friday night in Burlington in a game that saw the Grizz gradually take command. Rocky trailed 14-13 midway through the second quarter, but a flying drive by Bill Despain and subsequent free throw sparked an 8-0 run that put the Grizz up 21-14 and they never trailed again.
Rocky led 33-24 at halftime, then outscored the Fremont County foe 15-12 in the third quarter to lead 48-36 after three. They built the lead to 17 points in the fourth period before trading baskets down the stretch to win by 15.
Simmons said the Wind River game was played at a pace the Grizzlies enjoy since they like to get up and down the floor, but at times the game reached a speed the players hadn’t seen in practice yet so they got out of control, he said.
“You can push the ball up the floor by playing smart and making good passes without going crazy,” he said.
Despain led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points, and Kirby Winland added 18 points John Higgins and Joey Jewell, 10 each. Winland added 16 rebounds, two blocked shots and three steals. Despain led the team with eight steals and four assists.
The box score:
WIND RIVER (53)
O. Snyder 1 0-0 3, Caleb C’Bearing 5 10-12 20, Brett Roanhorse 6 0-0 13, Clayton Reinick 2 0-0 4, Bryce Hankins 0 0-2 0, Delshai Roanhorse 3 5-6 13. Totals 17 15-20 53.
ROCKY MTN. (68)
Xavier Mangus 0 0-4 0, John Higgins 5 0-1 10, Joey Jewell 4 0-2 10, Bill Despain 6 4-5 19, Caleb Horrocks 1 0-0 2, Kirby Winland 8 2-4 18, Cannon Simmons 1 2-4 4, Cole Simmons 1 1-2 3, Jacob Price 1 0-0 2. Totals 27 9-22 68.
Wind River 10 14 12 17 – 53
Rocky Mtn. 10 23 15 20 — 68
Three-point field goals – D. Roanhorse 2, B. Roanhorse 1; Despain 3, Jewell 2. Fouled out – Cannon Simmons. Total fouls – Wind River 22, Rocky 19.
The Grizzlies stopped the Kemmerer Rangers 52-44 Saturday morning in Greybull, showing that balance can overcome a top performance by an opposing player. Kemmerer star Tre Deeter scored a game-high 20 points, but four Grizzlies scored in double figures: Despain and Winland with 13 points each, Higgins 12 and Cannon Simmons 10.
Coach Simmons said the Grizzlies had a hard time shaking the Rangers, building double digit leads only to lose them.
“We played great when it was a four- or five-point margin,” Simmons said. “We would get it to 10 or 12, but then we’d let up, and it would go back to four or five points and we’d have to re-engage. We need to take that 10- to 12-point lead and take it to an 18- to 20-point game, then take a breath.
“Good teams have to learn how to put teams away and move on. But in the kids’ defense, we’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with positions and rotations.”
Rocky led 23-16 a halftime and built the lead to 10 points, 37-27, only to see Kemmerer close the gap to six at the quarter break, 38-32. Kemmerer got within three points, 45-42, with a minute and a half to go in the game, but Despain pushed the ball and dished to Higgins for a three-point play and the Grizz hit five of seven free throws down the stretch.
Despain finished with five assists and eight steals for the Grizzlies, and Winland led the team with three blocked shots and 12 rebounds.
The box score:
ROCKY MTN. (52)
Xavier Mangus 1 0-0 2, John Higgins 4 4-5 12, Joey Jewell 1 0-0 2, Bill Despain 4 4-6 13, Caleb Horrocks 0 0-0 0, Kirby Winland 6 1-2 13, Cannon Simmons 4 2-6 10, Cole Simmons 0 0-1 0, Jacob Price 0 0-0 0. Totals 20 11-20 52.
Connor Tiller 1 1-2 3, Kyle Corbridge 3 3-6 10, Tre Deeter 9 0-0 20, Robert Webster 1 3-4 5, Dylan McCloud 2 0-1 4, Hazla 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 7-13 44.
Rocky Mtn. 12 11 15 14 – 52
Kemmerer 6 10 16 12 – 44
Three-point field goals – Despain 1; Deeter 2, Corbridge 1. Fouled out – Corbridge. Total fouls – Rocky 14, Kemmerer 22.
The Grizz finished the tournament with a 48-45 loss to the Big Piney Punchers Saturday afternoon in Burlington. The Grizzlies had their moments but couldn’t sustain the effort in the loss.
Rocky led 10-9 after the first quarter and trailed 23-19 at halftime. But the Grizz outscored the Punchers 20-14 in the third quarter to lead 39-37 and seemed to assume control of the game. But Big Piney won the fourth 11-6 to win.
“In the third we did a good job changing the tempo with our pressure, just in the half-court sets. We put constant pressure on the individual, and we shot the ball well,” Simmons said. “We scored sometimes in transition and at other times early in the possession.”
The Grizz couldn’t sustain the defensive pressure in the fourth period, Simmons said, and without steals, Big Piney was able to work the ball around and wear the Grizz down.
“Both teams were tired, but Big Piney did a better job playing through the fatigue than we did,” he said.
Despain finished with 14 points, Winland and Cannon Simmons 10 each.
The box score:
ROCKY MTN. (45)
Xavier Mangus 0 0-2 0, John Higgins 2 0-0 4, Joey Jewell 1 0-1 2, Bill Despain 6 1-1 14, Caleb Horrocks 0 0-0 0, Kirby Winland 4 2-4 10, Cannon Simmons 3 2-4 10, Cole Simmons 2 0-0 5, Jacob Price 0 0-0 0. Totals 18 5-12 45.
BIG PINEY (48)
Eric Salmeron 1 0-0 2, Michael Howard 4 2-2 10, JD Fear 2 2-2 7, Jake Tanner 1 1-3 3, Alma Stoutenburg 3 4-5 10, Nolan Jones 3 0-2 6, William Shafer 5 0-1 10. Totals 19 9-15 48.
Rocky Mtn. 10 9 20 6 – 45
Bg Piney 9 14 14 11 – 48
Three-point field goals – Cannon Simmons 2, Cole Simmons 1, Despain 1; Fear 1. Fouled out – none. Total fouls – Rocky 15, Big Piney 14.
Home and away
The Grizz will travel to Dayton Friday to meet the Tongue River Eagles at 4 (JV) and 7 p.m. Tongue River went 1-2 at the Thermopolis tournament over the weekend and will give the Grizzlies a battle, Simmons said, adding that TR always had a sound team that will hit free throws and not make a lot of mistakes.
Rocky’s home opener takes place Saturday at 12 (JV) and 3 p.m. when the Grizz host the Wind River Cougars.
“We hope we improved more this week than they did,” Simmons said. “We hope to keep the tempo more under control. It will be fun to be on our home court.”
By David Peck