By George Ferguson/Havre Daily News Sportsfirstname.lastname@example.org
If the Rocky Boy boys basketball team is going to win a state championship this season, it will have to win three more games in a season that has seen the Stars already capture 22 wins against just one loss.
That quest to win three more games and bring the first ever state championship in boys basketball to Rocky Boy begins Thursday afternoon against Roberts in the opening round of the 2005 Class C state basketball tournament at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.
Regardless of what happens this week, the Stars can already call themselves champions. Rocky Boy captured the District 9C regular season and tournament titles, and two weeks ago they knocked off Winifred to win the Northern C championship.
The win earned the Stars their first trip to the state tournament since 1997, but just getting there isn't enough for this talented group of Rocky Boy players. According to Rocky Boy starting guard Jesse Colliflower, the Stars have been on a mission that originated with humble beginnings two years ago when the team won just one game all season.
Colliflower and the rest of the Stars are hoping that mission ends with them cutting down the nets this Saturday night in Great Falls.
"There are a lot of guys on this team that were here when we weren't a very good team," Colliflower said recently. "They have all paid the ultimate price to get to where we are now and we want to complete this mission with a state championship."
Rocky Boy first-year head coach Andy Smith wouldn't mind a state title either, especially being a rookie head coach. But Smith isn't looking any further ahead than the game with Roberts on Thursday.
The 2005 Class C state tournament is chock full of high profile teams and marquee players and Smith said that success this week will come down to minutes and even seconds in each game.
"We are going into this tournament looking at it like every single possession counts," Smith said. "There are eight very good basketball teams left out of over 100 schools and every little thing could be the difference between winning and losing this weekend."
Of the eight teams that will be in Great Falls this weekend, it is hard to distinguish the pretenders from the contenders. Plenty Coups, Gardiner and Whitewater all come into the state tournament undefeated and
Rocky Boy has lost just once in 23 games this season. Meanwhile, teams like Geyser and Drummond fought their way into the tournament via challenge games and won't be pushovers for anybody.
And neither will the Roberts Rockets. Smith got a good look at the Rockets in Miles City last Saturday night when they lost a closely played battle with Plenty Coups in the Southern C divisional championship game. And he sees Roberts just like he sees the rest of the field, talented, well-coached and a very tough opponent.
"Roberts will be a very tough team to play," Smith said. "They have a big front line and some quick guards, so I think they match up pretty well with us.
"But then again, every game in this tournament should be a toss-up," he added. "I think all of the best teams in Class C are here. Every game is going to be pretty even. I believe our success will come down to playing 32 minutes of good, hard defense. Every team will be good offensively this weekend, but the team who can play good defense and get stops is the team who is going to win this tournament."
And the Stars have been a solid defensive team all season. With athletes like 6-4 Charles Walking Child, 6-2 James Burns and the 6-2 Colliflower, the Stars have been able to put pressure on teams all season, especially in the half court. Rocky Boy is also capable of scoring in the half court with Walking Child and 6-4 Nate Rock in the post. The Stars have also held a rebounding edge against every team they have played this post season.
But what makes the Stars so good is the same thing that makes some of the other teams in the field just as good. Smith insists that Plenty Coups could be the team to beat this weekend because of the Warriors' constant defensive pressure they play. And Gardiner has a front line that is bigger and maybe more talented than other teams in the field.
"I have talked to people that have said that this tournament might be as deep as it has been in a really long time," Smith said. "You have three undefeated teams and nobody goes undefeated in high school basketball without being very good. I think there are legitimately five or six teams that could win the whole thing. We're excited about being in that group."
The Stars, as well as Geyser, will also be on a little different playing field than the other six teams in the tournament this week. The Northern C divisional was held two weeks ago, while all other divisional tournament were last weekend.
Drummond and Froid-Medicine Lake had to play in challenge games on Monday. So depending on what side of the fence you're sitting on, the extra week of rest could be viewed as a good or bad thing. Smith sees it as an advantage for one reason and one reason only.
"The week off gave us a chance to get some health issues cleared up," Smith said. "Upton Whitford was nursing a bad ankle and Jesse Colliflower has been battling the flu. So for us it was a good thing that we didn't have to play last week, because now we're at full strength and we're excited about getting back out on the floor."
Rocky Boy and Roberts will kick off the Class C state tournament on Thursday at 12:30 p.m. That game will be followed by Eastern C champion Whitewater taking on Western C runner-up Drummond at 2 p.m. The night session will tipoff at 6:30 p.m. with Western C champion Gardiner against Eastern C runner-up Froid-Medicine Lake. The final game of the first round will feature Plenty Coups taking on Geyser at 8 p.m.
The Class C boys state tournament in Great Falls will run through Saturday night with the championship game scheduled to tip off at 8 p.m.
State C at Great Falls
12:30 p.m. - Rocky Boy vs. Roberts
2 p.m. - Whitewater vs. Drummond
6:30 p.m. - Gardiner vs. Froid-Medicine Lake
8 p.m. - Plenty Coups vs. Geyser