Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Luke DeWolfe shied away from admitting that he’d go full “Hoosiers” on his team when the Sailors boys and girls face off today against Rifle at the Pepsi Center in Denver. He has no plans to pull out a tape measure to prove that the baskets in the Pepsi Center are 10 feet tall, that the free-throw line is 15 feet from the hoop and that the cylinder is 18 inches across.
“I’ve done these games before, and at first there is a lot of awe-inspired big eyes, everyone looking around like a deer in headlights,” DeWolfe said. “But when they start playing, they’ll get used to it, and when the tip goes up and the game starts, it will look just like any other high school basketball game.”
The Sailors hope the game, which starts at 3:30 p.m. or right after the Steamboat girls wrap up their 2 p.m. game against Rifle, goes a lot like the game did the last time the two teams met.
The Sailors emerged with a 56-52 home victory last month in a game in which Rifle’s leading scorer, Tyler Rust, missed critical minutes with foul trouble. That loss started a three-game skid for the Bears (9-9), though they then won two straight — defeating Moffat County and Eagle Valley handily — before falling Saturday at Battle Mountain.
Steamboat (11-7, 8-2), meanwhile, has won three of five since then and is also coming off a loss, a 64-58 setback at home against Delta. A win today for Steamboat would help solidify at least a second-place Western Slope League finish and would give the team a chance to not only avenge one of its only league losses at home Saturday against Glenwood Springs, but also to earn a share of the league championship if the Devils were to stumble.
Rifle, meanwhile, is in fourth and could take a big step up with a win.
“It’s a big game for both teams. Both teams have a lot invested,” DeWolfe said. “Rifle is fast and very athletic, and they really put on the pressure with their defense. We know that if we really want a shot at the league title, we have to show up and be focused and beat Rifle.”
Steamboat’s girls, meanwhile, hope a change in venue can change everything that went wrong in their previous run-in with Rifle.
The Bears took the previous showdown easily, 57-29, beating Steamboat over the head with a slew of first-half turnovers. The Sailors barely managed to shoot 20 percent from the field for the game.
Steamboat has been good since, the four victories in its five games coming by double digits, but the team has to be better in the bright lights of the Pepsi Center.
“It’s going to be exciting for the kids to play there, but they just have to remember that this is a league game — a big league game,” coach John Ameen said. “Rifle, they press really well, and last time, we couldn’t limit our turnovers. We have to take care of that and adjust to make them play more of a half-court game.”
Steamboat (13-5, 8-2) is fighting to hold on to second place in the league, and Rifle hopes to stay on a league-championship course. The Bears (14-3) have won 11 consecutive games since opening the season 3-3.
“This game can show us just how much we’ve improved in the last month and how we can adjust to an opponent,” Ameen said. “This can show us that we can make some noise in the state playoffs and that we can play with quality opponents.”