The Powell High School boys’ basketball team began 2019 with a hard-fought contest against some Big Horn Basin rivals Friday, losing 65-56 to the Rocky Mountain Grizzlies at Panther Gym.
The Panthers (2-4) didn’t play poorly, but never quite found their rhythm, ending their two-game win streak.
“It was close, but it was kind of self-inflicted,” Powell head coach Chase Kistler said of the loss. “It was kind of a stop-and-go type of offensive night, we just couldn’t get into any rhythm. Every time we started going on a small run, something would happen that would slow us back down and put us back behind the 8-ball.”
The Grizz (7-3) led 14-12 after the first quarter, and went into the half with a 29-24 lead. The second half was much of the same, with Rocky doing just enough in the final two quarters to hold on for the win. The Panthers continued to show they can score points and spread the ball around, but struggles with making defensive stops ended up being the deciding factor, according to Kistler.
“I don’t want to take anything away from them [Rocky Mountain], but we definitely made things difficult on ourselves,” he said. “Defense was definitely a problem. Offensively you’re going to have those games where you don’t find that rhythm, but defensively we couldn’t get stops when we needed to.”
“We gave up some easy shots, just because we were out of position or we didn’t close out low,” Kistler said. “We get up and down the court well, but the effort of when we’re playing defense — keeping your butt low and boxing out, making that extra step — those are the things that were glaring to me after that game.”
William Preator led the charge for the Panthers offensively, knocking down five 3-pointers on six attempts and finishing with 19 points and five boards. Kaelan Groves followed with 13 points, to go along with four rebounds and a pair of assists.
Carson Heinen finished with nine points, six boards and six assists, and Kistler expects the senior post to continue adding to those numbers.
“I’m waiting for Carson [Heinen] to have a breakout kind of game,” the coach said. “He’s due for it. He doesn’t shoot much, and I’d like to see him shoot a few more shots posting up around the basket. We have to get a few more shots out of him.”
Dalton Woodward led the team in rebounds with seven, to go along with his six points.
Rocky’s Ethan Price led all scorers with 23 points, followed by Taylor Winland with 16 points and Jess Wambeke with 11.
“It was a great game from [Ethan] Price, which we kind of anticipated. We knew what kind of player he is,” Kistler said. “The Winland kid, we knew what he was about. We knew what their offense was going to predominantly be.”
The Panthers head to Thermopolis this weekend for the Big Horn Classic, squaring off against Class 2A Wyoming Indian (6-4) and 1A Burlington (6-2) on Friday. Powell beat the Chiefs to close out 2018, but Burlington is a question mark — though Kistler said they always field a strong team.
“We know exactly what Wyoming Indian is going to be about,” he said. “Burlington is another good team in their division. It’s tough for us as a higher division playing a lower division, because if you win, you’re supposed to; if you lose, everyone is pointing the finger. But a lot of people that know high school basketball know that both those teams are strong programs who consistently win at their division.”
The classic will be a good opportunity for the Panthers to work out a few kinks before the start of conference play, according to Kistler. Practices will be geared toward shoring up the defense this week, concentrating on getting more stops.
“When we share the ball offensively, and then our defense turns into offense, that’s usually when we’re playing our best,” Kistler said. “When we can get a stop or a rebound, get the ball up the court quick, that tends to be our best style of play right now.”