The Rocky Mountain Grizzlies are on a roll. Since December 20 they have won 10 of 11 games and in their only loss they nearly came from behind to beat Wyoming Indian.
Their latest wins came against the Tongue River Eagles and the fourth-ranked Big Horn Rams, both in Sheridan County, over the weekend. The Grizz topped Tongue River 73-56 Friday and beat Big Horn 53-39 Saturday to run their season record to 13-4.
“They continue to amaze me with their ability to rise to the challenge,” coach Pat Winland said. “They don’t care who gets the credit. This team really plays for each other. I think they’re getting tired of the lack of respect in the polls.”
The Grizz won two games the previous weekend and dropped out of the top five in the weekly Wyopreps.com poll.
Playing a Northwest 2A conference game in Dayton Friday, the Grizzlies jumped out on Tongue River 9-0 early, only to see the Eagles rally to knot the score 9-9, Winland said. A 6-2 run the rest of the quarter fueled by a pair of Trace Moss three-pointers left Rocky up 15-11 after one.
The Grizz got their inside-out game going in the second quarter and outscored the home team 24-16 to lead 39-27 at halftime. Ethan Price scored 11 points in the quarter, including three treys, and Taylor Winland added 6 points, Jess Wambeke five free throws.
“Taylor had his way in side, and Ethan caught fire,” coach Winland said.
Winland said the Grizzlies picked up their defensive pressure in the third quarter and got several steals en route to a 19-7 advantage and a 58-34 lead at the quarter break.
“Jess and Ethan had a couple of nice connections in the third,” the coach added.
The Grizz boosted lead to 30, 65-35, a couple of minutes in the fourth quarter, then coasted to the 73-56 win.
Price finished with 21 points to lead Rocky in scoring, and both Zach Simmons and Taylor Winland had double-doubles, Simmons with 14 points and 11 rebounds, Winland with 11 points and 11 boards. Wambeke had 7 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals.
ROCKY MTN. (73)
Ethan Price 6 6-7 21, Talon Grant 1 0-0 2, Dominic Estes 0 3-4 3, Trevor Jewell 0 0-0 0, Jess Wambeke 1 5-6 7, Dawson May 0 0-0 0, Taylor Winland 5 1-4 11, Tyler Banks 0 2-2 2, Trace Moss 2 0-2 6, Zach Simmons 6 0-0 14, Zane Horrocks 1 2-2 4, Branson Robison 1 1-3 3. Totals 23 20-30 73.
TONGUE RIVER (56)
J. Richards 2 1-2 5, B. McCafferty 2 2-2 7, N. Summers 5 2-2 13, E. Cummins 0 1-1 1, J. Clair 4 5-6 13, J. Rees 3 1-6 7, C. Reish 3 0-1 6, K. McMeans 1 0-0 2, D. Bear Don’t Walk 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 12-21 56.
Rocky Mtn. 15 24 19 15 – 73
Ton. River 11 16 7 22 – 56
Three-point field goals – Price 3, Moss 2, Simmons 2; McCafferty 1, Summers 1. Fouled out – Banks; Clair, McMeans. Total fouls – Rocky 17, Tongue River 25.
Beating Big Horn
The Grizz stymied the Big Horn offense Saturday afternoon, holding the host team to 39 points.
“They are big and athletic, and well coached,” Winland said. “It was our best defensive performance of the year, by far. We played straight man-to-man with good help defense. They set a lot of screens, and we were able to adjust. We kept Taylor in the post for help.”
The two foes battled to a 4-4 tie early, but Rocky finished the first quarter with a 9-0 run punctuated by a Taylor Winland trey to lead 13-4 after one. Winland had 7 points in the first quarter, Ethan Price 4.
The two teams traded baskets in the second quarter, and Rocky led 23-14 at halftime. In the third, Big Horn twice cut the deficit to three points, 23-20 and 25-22, but the Grizzlies launched an 8-0 run to lead 33-22 before Big Horn closed the gap to eight, 34-26, heading into the fourth.
With the Grizz leading 44-36 in the fourth quarter, the young Grizzlies showed they know how to close out a win as Zach Simmons buried back-to-back three pointers to boost the lead to 50-36, and Rocky went on to win 53-39.
Winland finished with 20 points, Price and Simmons 12 points each. Winland grabbed nine rebounds, Tyler Banks five, and Wambeke dished off four assists. Coach Winland noted that Big Horn’s Kade Van Dyken had scored 31 points the night before but was limited to 6 points through three quarters against the Grizz, though he finished with 17. He credited Tyler Banks for defending Van Dyken.
“Tyler wakes up every morning knowing he’s going to guard the other team’s best player, and he loves it,” the coach said. “Jess showed a lot of grit this weekend playing with his elbow injury.”
Chiefs to town
The Grizzlies have just one game this weekend, but it’s a doozy as the third-ranked Wyoming Indian Chiefs (14-4) come to town Saturday for a 3 p.m. tip-off. The Grizz met the Chiefs during the Big Horn Basin Classic in Worland on Jan. 12 and dug themselves a 15-point hole before battling back to within one point before falling 75-73.
“We can’t let them get that big of a lead again. It’s too hard to come back from,” Winland said. “We have to take care of the ball, take quality shots and get out on their shooters.”