Class B Boys Basketball Roundup: Bearcats on top of the region, Bucs rip off wins
Compared to other team sports, basketball is the one game where its players have the greatest influence. While sports such as football, baseball, hockey and volleyball feature at least a dozen competitors on the playing surface at one time, baske...
Compared to other team sports, basketball is the one game where its players have the greatest influence. While sports such as football, baseball, hockey and volleyball feature at least a dozen competitors on the playing surface at one time, basketball features only 10.
Coaching matters too, of course. Inside of Region 7 this season, there hasn't been a more impactful person than first-year Glen Ullin-Hebron boys basketball head coach Greg Pruitt.
With the same roster from the 2017-18 season, the Bearcats, under Pruitt's guidance, have doubled their win total of five from a year ago and are holding the conference's best overall record at 10-2.
"I'm very proud of how the team adapted to a new coaching style," Pruitt said. "I challenged the six seniors coming into the season, telling them that they're going to really have to buy in and understand what we are asking of them, and I felt like they did that. ... I kept encouraging them that they know how to win through their strong football seasons. They know how to win, we just have to execute and put it out there on the basketball court."
The stats point out how well players have executed through the midway point of the season. On the strength of six victories by double figures, the Bearcats own Region 7's best average point-differential at plus-13.8. At 62.6 points per game, Glen Ullin-Hebron is third in Region 7 in scoring, trailing only Hazen (63.8) and Bowman County (63.1).
However, if you were to ask the players and coaches what has spearheaded the team's early success, they'd all point to the defensive end of the floor. The Bearcats are one of three squads in the conference that allows less than 50 points a contest, joining Dickinson Trinity and Beulah among those ranks.
"I'd say our defense is stronger than our offense right now. Most of our points come from our defense," senior guard Braden Zuroff said. "We've learned a lot of new things this year as far as rotating, playing man-to-man correctly, and just working hard on defense. We've gotten a lot of easy buckets because of that."
While the numbers have been great to this point, the Bearcats hope to sustain their level of play through a difficult stretch of games. On Saturday, Jan. 19, they'll host a Flasher team that has dropped only one contest this season before traveling to Bowman County the following Tuesday. One week later, Glen Ullin-Hebron will play Beulah and Hazen on back-to-back nights.
"Like I told the kids, these tough games, we need to play them because that's going to prep us for the regional atmosphere. ... When you get to the regional tournament, you play on Monday and turn around to play on Tuesday. That Tuesday team that you play is a quality opponent," Pruitt said. "When have to take it one game at a time, but when the opportunity comes, we have to be ready for it."
It's been a long time since the Bearcats have played in a regional tournament. The team has a long way to go before getting ready for the postseason, but if it can play into March, that would be rewarding for a group of players that have been through many more lows than highs on the basketball court.
"It would mean a lot. Everyone, including the seniors, are ready to break that drought," senior forward Mason Gerving said. "Just being in a big senior class, it would be good to advance in the region, maybe to the championship game or to just make some noise."
Beach rebounds from slow start with five-game winning streak
Coming off a postseason appearance last season, the Beach boys basketball team entered the 2018-19 campaign with high expectations. Once the year got underway, the Buccaneers struggled to find their footing, limping out to an 0-4 start.
In their final game before the Christmas break on Dec. 17, the Bucs picked up their first win of the season, defeating New England 54-51. Since returning from the break, Beach has been one of the hottest teams in Region 7.
"We felt like we were still sticking together, but it was frustrating," sophomore center Blake Van Horn said. "We just started listening to coach more, work harder in practice and things started turning around. We're moving the ball better."
Beach began 2019 with 65-64 loss at home to Grant County on Jan. 4. Since then, the Buccaneers have won five straight games, two of which have come against regional opponents. Defense has been the key to the Beach's turnaround. During their four-game losing streak to start the season, the Bucs allowed three of their opponents to score more than 70 points. However, they have not allowed an opponent put up 60 points during their five-game winning streak.
"We've really picked it up on the defensive end," Beach head coach Al Swanson said. "We've played a lot of man-to-man, but we've been mixing in a 2-3 zone and with that, our players are doing a better job of understanding their roles. ... We still have a long way to go, but the biggest thing is that we are starting to get more comfortable on the floor."
Winning every game by double-figures, the team is lighting up the scoreboard, averaging 67.4 points per game through the streak. Swanson believes one of the reasons for the increase in offensive production has been his players taking better care of the ball under an uptempo style.
"Before, when we pushed the ball up the floor, we'd be moving a little too fast. I still always want to push it after a rebound or a turnover, but we were trying to do a little too much," Swanson said. "Now when we are pushing up, we're making smart decisions and are under control."
As for the person responsible for putting the ball in the hole, junior forward Gage Swanson handles the heavy lifting. With multiple 30-point games this season, Swanson receives much of his opponents attention, which allows his teammates to get involved.
During a 72-55 victory over Heart River on Tuesday, Jan. 15, Swanson put up 30 points, but freshman guard Tevin Dietz and Van Horn were solid contributors as well, scoring 19 and 13, respectively.
"We do look for Gage a lot, but we did look for each other and the open teammates," Van Horn said. "I just try to play hard ball, fight for every loose ball and do what I can."