Tigers basketball eager to return to court

Boys open 3-day tourney play today

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— The Hayden High School boys basketball team doesn’t know how it would fare against Meeker, the top dog and host team for this weekend’s Cowboy Shootout basketball tournament. The Tigers just want the chance to find out.

Hayden opens play in the three-day tournament at 4:30 p.m. today against Class 3A powerhouse Valley, and that’s a game it will have to win if it wants to earn a shot at a Meeker squad considered the class of the Western Slope and currently ranked No. 4 in Class 2A by www.maxpreps.com.

“The only way we can see Meeker is to make the finals on Saturday, so hopefully we’ll see them,” Hayden coach Mike Luppes said.

The Tigers have some major hurdles to overcome before that would happen, and they won’t have to wait for the first major challenge.

Valley, based in Gilcrest, went 20-7 in 3A a year ago and made it all the way to the state tournament consolation game, where it lost to finish fourth.

The team sports a pair of tall sophomores — one measures 6 feet 5 inches, and the other is 6 feet 6 inches — who can dominate inside the paint. They certainly could be the downfall of the Tigers, but Hayden is far from intimidated.

“We are hoping to play well and come away with the win,” Luppes said. “As long as we can keep the turnovers down, we can run with them.”

As for Valley’s twin towers, Luppes said he’s hopeful that Hayden’s own size can prove an adequate match.

“We really match up pretty well,” he said. “It sounds like they’re young and inexperienced, and hopefully we can get a good transition game going, get them to turn the ball over and get some easy baskets.”

Hayden has had plenty of time to work on those tactics. Every other prep basketball team in the county was in action last weekend, but Hayden hasn’t played since a Dec. 1 win against Soroco.

Luppes said he used the time to reinforce lessons in blocking out, post defense and shooting, especially after the team went just 1-14 from 3-point range against the Rams.

Now it will face three games in a row. Friday it will play either Middle Park or Moffat County’s junior varsity squad, and Saturday, the team will play again in the tournament’s final round.

“That opening game against Valley is the key to the tournament for us,” Luppes said. “If we come out and play well, we’ll be in good shape no matter what happens after that. But we could play a really good game and still end up on the short end, so we just need a good, consistent performance where we improve on the areas we need to after the Soroco game.”

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