Two out of three isn’t bad.
The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies started the New Year with two wins in three games at the Big Horn Basin Classic, playing in the Powell bracket.
The Grizz opened play Friday night in Powell, taking on the hometown Panthers and defeating the Class 3A foe 64-55. Friday, Rocky fell to fellow 2A Northwest Conference member Greybull in a non-conference game, 65-54. Saturday, the Grizzlies beat 2A Northeast Wright in an entertaining game, 69-61.
Powell took an early 5-0 lead against the Grizzlies Thursday night, but a three-pointer from the top of the key by Cole Simmons ignited a 10-2 run by the Grizz that put them up 10-7. After Powell knotted the score 10-10 on a trey by Jace Smith, a flying baseline move by Colby Davison and two free throws by Tristan Jewell put Rocky up 14-10 at the quarter break and the Grizz never trailed again.
“It was a great environment in Powell, a great atmosphere,” coach Michael Simmons said. “We joked that Powell has more cheerleaders and band members than our junior and senior classes combined. It was fun. There was great energy in the gym, which we were able to feed off of.”
A 9-0 run early in the second quarter that included a follow drive and trey by Jewell, a baseline jumper by Ethan Price and a dunk by Simmons boosted the Rocky Mountain lead to 23-12, and the Grizz went on to lead 35-23 at halftime.
“Coming off the (holiday) break, I thought we executed everything in the first half very well,” Simmons said. “We got a little sloppy with our Xs and Os in the third quarter and into the fourth.”
Two treys by Price and another by Simmons helped Rocky outscore Powell 15-8 in the third quarter to lead 50-31 at the quarter break.
Powell fought back in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Grizz 24-14 and cutting the lead to seven points, 61-54, before Lathan May sealed the win with an old-fashioned three-point play – a fast-break bucket and free throw.
“We weren’t as sharp (in the second half) as we were in the first half,” Simmons said. “I thought we got a little lackadaisical in the second half, but I had to remind myself that we’re starting four kids who didn’t start last year.”
Price and Jewell finished with 13 points each to lead the Grizzlies, and May and Davison added 11 points each, Simmons 9 and Jonathan Allred 7.
“As a coaching staff you love that balance,” Simmons said. “That creates tough matchups for other teams.”
Allred led the team with seven rebounds, and Davison had six rebounds and three steals. Simmons and Jewell had four assists each, May three.
Carson Heinen led Powell with 16 points, and TJ Abraham had 15.
Loss to Greybull
It was a totally different atmosphere in Rocky’s lackluster 65-54 loss to Greybull Friday afternoon.
“There was zero energy in the gym,” Simmons said. “It was kind of a dead gym. As coaches, we talked to the kids about having to create their own energy and we just didn’t do that. We were flat.
“Greybull plays physical ball – they were conference football champions – and it showed.”
Greybull edged Rocky 15-11 in the first quarter despite 6 points by Price and a trey by May, then outscored the Grizzlies 17-11 in the second quarter to lead 32-22 at halftime. Rocky edged Greybull 12-11 in the third quarter, but Greybull won the fourth, 22-20.
“Greybull went to their tiger set, where their guards weave in and out. We did OK with it in the second half, but in the first half they got some easy baskets with dribble penetration. Our rotation came, but it was too late. We kind of figured it out but were a half a step behind. We need to learn to play more physical.
“We can’t give up 65 points to Greybull. Take away a dozen layup points at the rim and we’re right there. We didn’t do well with our execution on the offensive side. We didn’t adjust between man and zone (defenses). We seemed to be a step behind.”
Jewell finished with 15 points to lead the Grizz, and May and Price scored 11 points each, Simmons 10 and Davison 7. Allred grabbed six rebounds, Simmons five, and Jewell had three steals.
Rocky finished the tournament with a 69-61 win over a tough Wright Panther squad that had defeated 3A Buffalo in the first round 59-50 before falling to Wyoming Indian 61-56. The game was fun for fans, featuring numerous lead changes before Rocky took control of the game, only to see Wright battle back more than once.
“There was a little more energy in the gym,” Simmons said. “We also watered down our offense and defense for the first four minutes to use our athleticism and let ‘em run before creating sets and working on some things.”
Ethan Price thrived in the system Saturday, burning Wright for 28 points on nine-of-14 shooting, hitting four three-pointers and going six of six at the foul line.
“Ethan was not thinking just playing,” Simmons said. “We kept it simple. They played a lot more man, and as a team we’re more comfortable with that.”
Wright jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, but Price, Allred and Davison led a comeback and scored 8, 6 and 5 points in the quarter as Rocky led 19-17 after one.
The two teams traded baskets – and the lead – for half of the second quarter before Rocky finished the first half with a 9-1 burst keyed by May, Price and Jewell. Rocky Mountain led 33-25 at halftime.
A fast break bucket by May, a trey by Price off a hustle save by May and a baseline tear drop floater by Price boosted the Rocky lead to 14 points early in the third quarter, but Wright fought back and cut into the lead, closing to within four points late in the quarter before Rocky led 50-44 at the quarter break.
The see-saw match continued in the fourth quarter. Rocky went on a 10-0 tear midway through the quarter to lead 62-47, but Wright followed with a 14-4 run to cut the lead back to five points, 66-61, before Price and Scott Banks closed out the game with three free throws in four attempts to up the final margin to eight points.
“We did some silly things and went on cruise control, but fortunately we responded when we needed to and got out of there with a win,” Simmons said. “It’s good to have these challenges. It was a good 2A basketball game. Wright’s a good team.”
After Price’s 28 points, May scored 14, Allred and Davison 8 each, Simmons 6, Jewell 4 and Banks 1. Davison led the Grizz with seven rebounds, and Jewell finished with six rebounds and seven assists, Simmons five boards and four assists.
Rocky shot 50 percent from the field including a sizzling 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. Price hit four of seven three-point attempts.
The fifth-ranked Grizzlies, now 6-3 on the season, will face a pair of tough non-conference foes with contrasting styles this weekend, traveling to third-ranked Big Horn (7-1) Friday for games at 1 (JV) and 4 p.m. and hosting sixth-ranked Wyoming Indian (8-5) Saturday, also at 1 and 4. Girls varsity games are scheduled for 2:30 each day.
“These are two teams I anticipate being in the state tournament,” Simmons said. “Big Horn will be physical. They won the football title. They were very competitive last year and return all of their starters but one. They play a physical style similar to Greybull and have defeated Greybull twice.
“This will be a competitive weekend leading into conference play. These are two of the top five teams. The game style from Friday to Saturday will be a night and day difference, but that (adjusting) is what good teams have to do. For Wyoming Indian we’ll work on stopping dribble penetration. We want to pressure the ball and keep the ball
By David Peck