Steamboat Springs When Steamboat faced Palisade and Delta three weeks ago, it was the start of a three-game slide that ended an undefeated league record and scrambled league standings.
But the Sailors are looking to regain their footing this weekend and gather momentum heading into the district tournament.
In order to do that, the Sailors must reverse the outcome of their previous matchups with the Bulldogs and Panthers.
While it was the bottom-ranked Bulldogs who came from behind to beat the Sailors 49-47 Jan. 26, it will be the Panthers who the Sailors are focused on coming into this weekend's league play.
Ranked second in the league with its only two losses to second- ranked Battle Mountain, Delta has been one of the more consistent teams in one of the most competitive leagues in years. That showed on Jan. 27, when Delta beat Steamboat, 57-40.
When the Sailors match up with the Panthers on their home court at 7:30 p.m. Friday, one of the biggest challenges will be defending Justin Evans, who has been averaging about 19 points a game.
Able to handle any position on the floor from point guard to post, Evans is the most dominant Panther on the floor.
But the Panthers are also blessed with a deep team of eight seniors, including their second leading scorer Dan Frazier, who averages about 12 points per game. Frazier poses a double threat from long range and down low under the basket.
The Sailors will also be up against the Panthers' regular point guard, Jeff Allinson, who was out for the last matchup. The handful of players, strong all over the court and on the boards, has spelled trouble for more than one team in the league.
"Their offense is hard, extremely hard," Sailors coach Kelly Meek said. "A number of people have struggled with them. They change the defense, run a lot of traps. They have quickness of speed; (they are) very effective in handling the ball well. It's crucial not to turn the ball over."
The Sailors' turnovers were one of the factors that helped give the Panthers the win, coach Kurt Clay said.
"I think we won because of turnovers," Clay said. "They had a lot of turnovers and that sparked our offense and defense."
In their last matchup, the Sailors were within a point of the Panthers at the half. But with Sailors post player Alex Mackey fouling out with just 40 seconds in the second half, the Sailors could not compete with the quick and deep Panthers team.
"We're just going to put in a few defensive wrinkles to defend things that they run. On offense, we're trying to fine tune strategies. We want to execute our styles better than they execute their (game)," Meek said.
While the Sailors will be focused on the Panthers until the game is over Friday night, they also have an important game against the Bulldogs, who gave the Battle Mountain Huskies a close game last weekend.
Meek said in the last couple of weeks, the Bulldogs' Ryan Ehlers has stepped up as a dangerous 3-point shooter. The Sailors will face the Panthers at home on Saturday in a 6 p.m. game.