Second-half surge lifts Aspen boys hoops | AspenTimes.com

Second-half surge lifts Aspen boys hoops

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Grand Valley boys basketball coach Jake Higuera knew his team would have to fight for every second and every possession Friday night against Slope power Aspen.

He also knew his Cardinals would have to let it fly.

“We weren’t going to be able to do anything inside against those guys – they’re all giants,” Higuera joked. “It’s a good thing we like to shoot the 3.”

Five of visiting Grand Valley’s six first-half field goals came from behind the arc. The deep ball helped the Cardinals trim an early 16-4 deficit to just four at halftime.

The Skiers (3-0 overall, 1-0 3A Western Slope), ranked second in The Denver Post’s 3A preseason poll, pulled away from there. While Grand Valley went cold, balanced Aspen, which had no player score more than 11, went on a 12-2 run in the third quarter’s first three-plus minutes. The Skiers led by 10 or more the rest of the way and coasted to a 55-41 win.

“I think they played pretty well together. There was a lot of unselfish play,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said. “I thought they played really hard, and our guys really listened to the coaches on our staff at halftime. … They changed their defensive approach and made some great adjustments.”

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It hardly looked like adjustments were necessary. During the game’s first 31⁄2 minutes, Matthew Holmes scored off the glass and Andrew Papenfus drilled a 3 to spark a 9-1 Skiers run, forcing Higuera to burn a timeout.

Omar Melendrez hit a 3 to pull Grand Valley (2-1, 0-1) to within four at 9-4, but Holmes connected from long range and Zack Babich and Nick Codd used their size advantage in the paint to push the Aspen lead to 12.

“You try not to look at the score and continue to battle and move forward,” Higuera said. “You can’t let that get in your head.”

The Cardinals did just that. Sophomore Trevor Smith hit back-to-back 3’s from well beyond the arc down the stretch to pull Grand Valley to within six after the first eight minutes.

Tyler Radel got into the act with two 3’s in the opening minutes of the second, then, after a rare field goal in the paint from Ian Holloway, Radel went 1-of-2 from the free throw line to square the game at 19 with 2:48 remaining.

“To their credit they shot lights out and were bombing in 3s from way downtown,” Ketchum said. “I didn’t know if they were lucky or just that good. Maybe a little of both.”

“We knew they were going to come out running and gunning,” Holmes said. “The momentum changed a little bit, but we still held it together.”

Papenfus hit a fade-away jumper and two free throws to give the Skiers a 23-19 cushion at the break – despite scoring seven points in the second quarter.

Aspen didn’t look back. Anderson Cole twice scored in transition, Bridger Dawson pulled down an offensive board and converted the put-back, then Nicky Fuller hit two free throws during the third quarter’s first 2:11 to give the Skiers a 31-19 lead.

The Cardinals could do little to slow Aspen down low, and trailed 40-28 heading to the fourth.

“There one of the best teams I’ve ever been around. … Way better [than last year],” Higuera said of the Skiers. “They do a lot of things right and they’re so big. … Our guys didn’t stop fighting until the last buzzer. That’s what we asked, and that’s what they gave us.”

The Skiers continued to pad their lead in the fourth quarter, as the bulk of the bench saw action. Papenfus led the way with 11 points, while Holmes added nine and Dawson seven for Aspen, which hosts Basalt at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Smith finished with 15 and Radel 11 for Grand Valley, which hosts Gunnison at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“Once we get a 12-, 14-, 15-point lead, we have to work on not getting any moments of complacency,” Ketchum said. “We have to maintain that intensity. I think we did that a little today.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com