By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The Box Elder boys basketball team took a big step Thursday toward atoning for its disappointing finish last year.
The Bears knocked off the defending District 9C champion KG KouGars, 66-52, in District 99C tournament semifinal action in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Havre High School gymnasium.
The Bears were able to capitalize on the hot shooting of guard Aaron Henry early on. That, according to KG veteran head coach Charlie Robinson, was the difference in the ballgame.
"Box Elder just shot the lights out tonight, especially Aaron Henry," Robinson said. "You have to take your hats off to Box Elder. They played a great basketball game and they deserved to win tonight."
Box Elder coach Gus Bacon was unavailable for comment after the game.
Tyler Kapperud got off to a hot start for the KouGars as he opened the pivotal contest with a long-range three-pointer. KG was able to build an early 8-5 lead behind the shooting of Kapperud and Cody Donoven.
But the Bears closed the period on an 8-0 run that gave them a 13-10 lead.
Robinson said the run at the end of the period set the tone for the rest of the game.
"I thought when they (Box Elder) came out shooting so well, it gave them a lot of confidence and momentum," Robinson said. "That really set the tone for the rest of the game because they were able to do what they wanted offensively and we never really could. They were able to take the inside away from us and that really hurt us offensively tonight."
In the second quarter, the KouGars were briefly able to regain the lead, via a quick 8-0 run.
But the Bears' hot shooting never let up as Henry drilled a three-pointer with three minutes remaining in the half, sending the Bears on a 9-2 run. That last spurt of the first half gave Box Elder a slim 24-21 lead at the break.
The Bears did not slow down in the second half, opening the third quarter with a 13-2 run that pushed their lead to 14 points. Henry scored eight of his team's 13 points in the quarter.
Box Elder opened the fourth stanza in the same fashion as it did the third. Tim Rosette's turnaround jumper in the lane keyed another 7-0 run that pushed Box Elder's lead to 17 points at 48-31 with six minutes left in the game.
The KouGars would prove resilient as they ripped off nine straight points to cut the lead to single digits with two minutes to play. Things got even scarier for the Bears. In a span of 10 seconds, Donoven and Luke Antonich converted two straight steals into layups and Kapperud turned a third turnover into a deep three - his fifth of the night - that cut the Bears' lead down to five points at 57-52.
But Box Elder remained poised as KG was forced to send them to the foul line in the final minute. During that stretch, the Bears scored the game's final 10 points and iced a trip to Saturday night's championship game.
"Box Elder was really poised down the stretch of the game," Robinson said. "We had to put them on the free-throw line and they put the game away. You just have to give them a lot of credit. They played a great basketball game tonight."
Henry led the way for the Bears with a game-high 21 points. Tim Rosette poured in 19 points and Neal Rosette added 10 points, including three treys. The KouGars got 17 points from Kapperud. Richie Melby scored 12 points and Donoven added 11.
The loss to Box Elder ends KG's bid to repeat as district champions. While that fact is obviously disappointing to Robinson, he knows that his team must now come back through the loser's bracket and try to get a challenge game on Monday night.
"We can't give up on this tournament," Robinson said. "We have a tough game against Turner on Friday and hopefully we can come back and play well. Then we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
"It isn't like we played bad basketball tonight," Robinson added. "We just didn't get to execute our offense the way we wanted, and Box Elder played really well. Now we just have to get focused and be ready to play on Friday."
The Bears (16-4) have already erased some of the disappointment that they felt in the 2003 tournament when they were upset in a Thursday night semifinal game.
Now Box Elder will have a day to prepare for the No. 1- ranked Big Sandy Pioneers (19-0). The Bears and Pioneers will hook up in the District 9C championship game Saturday at 7 p.m. at the HHS gymnasium.
Box Elder 66, KG 52
Box Elder 13 11 17 25 - 66
KG 10 11 10 21 - 52
Box Elder - Kyle Parker 7, Aaron Henry 21, Neal Rosette 10, Tyler Henry 7, Tim Rosette 19, Jason Hawk 2.
KG - Dan Kloppenburg 7, Drew Kapperud 17, Darby Donoven 5, Cody Donoven 11, Richie Melby 12.
Total fouls - KG 15, Box Elder 8. Fouled out - None. Three-point goals - Kloppenburg 1, Kapperud 5, D. Donoven 1, C. Donoven 1, A. Henry 1, N. Rosette 3.