ASPEN - Aspen High boys basketball standout Trent Lichtenwalter said it was imperative that the Skiers come out firing Friday and "show Basalt that we're not going to let up or be soft."
The visiting Longhorns sure got the message - as did everyone in the gym.
The sharp Skiers repeatedly fed the post in the opening minutes and were rewarded with a slew of easy baskets - many of them from Lichtenwalter, who logged his third 20-plus-point effort in six games. Aspen scored the game's first 14 points, led by 21 at the break and cruised to a 61-44 win, improving to 5-1.
"It was a great night. We really came in prepared," said Lichtenwalter, who finished with a game-high 26. "The plan was to play aggressive in the post. We had a little trouble with the 3 in our last game, so we wanted to get it down low a lot."
That plan paid dividends during a lopsided first eight minutes. Clayton Crawford kicked things off with a three-point play and a bucket in transition in the game's first 80 seconds.
Crawford, fellow junior Lichtenwalter and senior Dan Schwartz continually flustered the Basalt defense, combining for all 18 of the Skiers' first-quarter points.
They led by 15 heading to the second. Basalt guard Sean Ryan momentarily slowed Aspen with back-to-back 3s, but the Longhorns were clearly overmatched on the interior on both sides of the court. They hit just three shots inside the arc in the first half and scored 13 points.
Lichtenwalter and Crawford, meanwhile, combined for 22 in the first 16 minutes for the Skiers, who appeared to have this one wrapped up at the break.
"I thought we played well across the board in that first half," Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said. "Trent and Clay played just great, ... and the intensity they brought on the defensive end was phenomenal."
The Longhorns (1-3) managed to find a few holes in that defense in the third quarter. Javier Huerta led the charge, pulling down two offensive rebounds and scoring on one possession and then shaking free for a lay-up.
Basalt was outscored by just four points in the frame. It closed with a flourish in the fourth against Aspen's substitutes, scoring the game's final nine points. Six of those came from Bertilio Garcia, who twice pulled up for and buried long 3s.
"I thought Basalt played unbelievably well in that second half, probably about as good as they can play," Ketchum said. "We usually wait until really late in the game to go to the bench, and tonight you saw why.
"That being said, we had a lot of guys contribute tonight. We're feeling good going into the break."
Crawford finished with 14 despite missing six of his eight free-throw attempts, and Schwartz pitched in with nine for the Skiers, who are off until Jan. 11's trip to New Castle to take on Coal Ridge.
"I saw the raw talent at that first tournament in Glenwood Springs, but I didn't know we'd be able to put it together like we have," Lichtenwalter said. "We're definitely thrilled with where we are, and I think we have a lot to look forward to."
The Longhorns, who could not sustain the momentum generated after last week's 84-23 win over Vail Mountain - their first in nearly two years - will look to rebound at 4 p.m. Saturday, when they host Grand Valley.