Hoops: Aspen boys bounce back, beat 4A Palisade | AspenTimes.com

Hoops: Aspen boys bounce back, beat 4A Palisade

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Rustin Gudim/The Aspen TimesThe Skiers' Bridger Dawson attempts a difficult shot in the paint during Tuesday's game against Palisade at Aspen High School.

ASPEN – Steve Ketchum grinned widely and shook his head.

“How did that happen?” the Aspen basketball coach jokingly inquired as he entered the locker room after Tuesday night’s win.

Ketchum called Saturday’s offensive showing against Eagle Valley one of the worst he’s experienced in his tenure here. His inexperienced Skiers struggled to hold onto the ball and managed to score just 39 points in dropping their first game of the young season.

They rebounded in fine fashion Tuesday against visiting Palisade. Six different players scored during a first quarter in which Aspen jumped out to a 16-4 lead. The Skiers led by 17 at halftime and, fueled by 17 points from Bridger Dawson and 12 from Jake Nugent, were rarely tested in a 56-43 victory.

“We turned the ball over and over [Saturday]. It was embarrassing,” Ketchum said. “We go from looking like a state-caliber team to looking like a sixth-grade team. You don’t know which one is going to show up. Thankfully, we were much better tonight.”

Dawson scored twice in the paint and hit two free throws, sparking a 13-2 run in the game’s first 6 minutes, 22 seconds.

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Aspen senior McCall Kauss stretched the lead to 14 soon after when, after multiple crisp passes, he found himself wide open on the wing and drilled a 3-pointer.

Guard Greg Tarman sank a running jumper with 16 seconds remaining to quell a Palisade scoring drought that lasted nearly 5 minutes.

The Skiers (2-1) did not let up in the second quarter. Dawson hit two free throws, freshman Clayton Crawford nailed a 3, then, following a basket from the Bulldogs’ Kyle Monger, Nugent shook free underneath on consecutive possessions, stretching the Skiers’ lead to 25-6.

Dawson and Nugent combined for 20 points in the first 16 minutes for Aspen, which led, 33-16, at the break.

“We had more balanced scoring and definitely were more calm with the ball,” Dawson said.

Kane Gunther and Gabe Hellmann caught fire after the break, scoring all 12 of the Bulldogs’ points in the third quarter. Still, 4A Palisade could do little to trim their deficit. Gunther finished with 17.

The Bulldogs generated multiple Skiers turnovers with full-court pressure early in the fourth. During one stretch, Gunther drained a 3, then Hellmann picked off a pass and scored in transition, cutting the Aspen lead to 12 and forcing Ketchum to burn a timeout with 4:57 to play.

The Skiers then pushed the ball up court and looked to their star; Dawson delivered, absorbing a bump and finishing off the glass.

Palisade pulled no closer than 13 the rest of the way.

“We had three games [in the last five days] and only one practice. It’s tough to get any better without practicing,” Ketchum said. “I think you got a glimpse tonight of some of the possibilities there. … We’re getting better. We just need to be confident and strong with the ball.”

Skiers girls lose battle in the paint

Aspen hung with Palisade for two quarters, utilizing characteristic aggressive play to force turnovers and extend possessions with success on the offensive glass.

But in the end, The Bulldogs’ obvious size advantage was too much for the home team to handle. Palisade jumped out a 38-29 lead after three quarters and cruised to a 48-35 victory over the Skiers, who have dropped two straight since their season-opening victory over Battle Mountain.

“It’s still early in the season and we’re still trying to figure some things out,” Aspen head coach Jeremy Haack said. “These games against 4A schools are only going to help us improve.

“We have to do a better job getting in position [in the paint on defense].”

Such was the problem in Saturday’s lopsided loss to Eagle Valley. It cropped up again in the third and fourth quarters Tuesday, as the Bulldogs routinely dumped the ball into the paint and found little resistance on drives to the basket.

Senior Kailie Wallace scored three consecutive times early in the third, helping Palisade extend its three-point halftime lead to seven at 28-21. Later, after a Skiers timeout, Wallace twice rebounded her own misses, then alertly passed off to Emily Crow for the easy lay-in.

Wallace finished with 12 points and teammates Courtney Clark and Crow pitched in with nine and eight, respectively.

Aspen’s Bailey Everhart tried to keep things close, scoring six of her game-high 16 in the third quarter. The rest of her teammates could muster just four points in the frame, however, and the Skiers trailed, 38-29, heading to the fourth.

Everhart and Hayley Kremer hit back-to-back jumpers midway through a defensive final quarter, trimming Aspen’s deficit to five at 38-33. The Bulldogs responded with three consecutive scores in the paint to all but put the game out of reach.

Savannah Johnson finished with nine points for Aspen, which visits Steamboat Springs at 5:30 p.m. Monday. The boys will follow at 7 p.m.

jmaletz@aspentimes.com