Hayden boys to face Plateau Valley today

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Hayden boys basketball, 2008-09

— If the Hayden High School boys basketball team's season has been a roller coaster ride, its previous game against Plateau Valley High School was the part where the child in the front car gets sick all over everyone.

Few games this season have as clearly illustrated the depths to which the Tigers can sink as the Jan. 10 showdown against the Cowboys.

A day after a strong win against West Grand High School and a few weeks after a huge victory against Soroco, Hayden fell behind, 17-2, in the first quarter and never threatened to close the gap, eventually losing, 59-35.

The Tigers hope to present Plateau Valley with an entirely different challenge when the two teams meet again at 5 p.m. today in the district tournament in Meeker.

"We have to play better than we did the first time," Hayden coach Mike Luppes said. "We need to get some scoring going early and loosen everything up across the floor."

That Hayden could make a game of it is not just wishful thinking by Luppes.

After that ugly loss, the team rallied to finish third in the district. It picked up another impressive win against Soroco and thumped a solid Vail Christian squad last week to advance to the district playoffs.

Luppes said he knows exactly what needs to happen if his team is to turn the tables on Plateau Valley.

"We only (had) 13 points from our posts last time," he said. "We need to get them a lot more involved."

Forwards Murphy Smartt and Zach Barnes have been the team's go-to scorers all season, but they were muscled out of the paint against Plateau Valley and rendered non-factors.

"Our posts got pushed clear out of the game on offense," Luppes said. "That then affected them on both ends of the floor. We've worked on how to be physical and what kinds of things the refs will allow.

"That has been a big key for us the last four or five games."

He also said a physical maturation has helped the squad blossom.

When Hayden first met the Cowboys, young players such as forward Rene Valdez and Ben Williams were earning mop-up minutes, if any time at all.

Now they figure much more prominently into the team's game plan.

"That's something we definitely worked on in the middle of the season, and we've been able to develop some of that bench strength," Luppes said. "We feel like we've made a lot of progress, and hopefully we'll see the results in this tournament."

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