Aspen boys beat Bennett in round 1 |

Aspen boys beat Bennett in round 1

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Skiers senior Michael Taylor goes up for a dunk in the first quarter of Friday's opening­round state tournament game against eighth-seeded Bennett at Aspen High School. The Skiers won, 79-44. (Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times)

ASPEN ” As he waited for the first of Friday’s two opening-round state tournament games to conclude, Aspen’s Michael Taylor lounged with his legs draped across a bleacher and a basketball resting in his lap.

As it turned out, the senior looked just as comfortable on the court.

Taylor scored the game’s first eight points ” six on dunks ” and he and teammate Cory Parker had eighth-seeded Bennett seeing double. The duo combined for 48 points, dominating inside against undersized and overmatched Tigers defenders, and top-seeded Aspen pulled off a convincing 79-44 victory.

The Skiers (21-2) will host fourth-seeded Salida, a 61-55 winner over No. 5 Holy Family earlier Friday, in Saturday’s subregion final at 1 p.m. The winner advances to the Great 8 at Fort Collins’ Moby Arena.

“We’re 32 minutes away from celebrating,” Aspen coach Steve Ketchum said. “The kids made good adjustments and ended up taking advantage of whatever they gave us.”

No adjustments were necessary in the early stages of the first quarter, as Parker fed Taylor in the post for easy dunks on successive possessions. Taylor made his first four shots, all coming from inside the paint, and the Skiers jumped ahead, 8-4.

When he finally did miss ” his free throw on an attempted three-point play bounced off the rim ” Parker was there to pull down the rebound, absorb a bump and score from a difficult angle. The duo combined for 19 of the team’s 23 first-quarter points, Aspen closed on a 10-0 run and led by 15 after eight minutes. Six Skiers scored in the first.

“We wanted to come out, hit them in the mouth and make them climb out of a hole,” Parker said. “We never wanted to let up.”

Parker nailed a 3 and sank a jumper to spark a 9-2 Aspen run in the opening two minutes of the second quarter.

He finished strong, too, scoring eight points in the first half’s final 1 minute, 42 seconds to give Aspen a commanding 42-22 lead. Parker hit four free throws, pulled down an offensive board and scored, then hit an acrobatic jumper from the corner at the buzzer.

The 6-7 senior, who committed to Division I Drake University in Iowa on Monday night, scored 22 of his game-high 31 in the first 16 minutes. Taylor chipped in with 12 in the first half and finished with 17, matching his second-best scoring output of the season.

“Size was definitely a benefit, and I used it to my advantage,” Taylor said. “We wanted to come out and show them we were going to pound it down their throats the entire time.”

Aspen’s defense was just as imposing. The Skiers flustered Bennett with full-court pressure, and their size made it difficult for the Tigers to muster any half-court offense. They held Bennett’s leading scorer, guard Porter Wilson, to just two points. The senior, who came in averaging 16.6 points a game, finished with 10, six of which came in the final quarter against Aspen’s reserves.

Aspen all but sank the Frontier League champions in the third-quarter when they opened on a 13-0 run in the first four-plus minutes to pull ahead, 55-22.

There would be no upset this time around. The Skiers, who lost in the opening round last year against Roosevelt, added to their 31-point lead after three quarters Friday and cruised to their 19th straight victory.

Aspen hasn’t lost since Dec. 7. It hopes that streak continues today against Salida, which has won five of its last sixth and finished fourth in the competitive Tri-Peaks West conference.

Thirty-two minutes to Fort Collins.

“They handle it well, pass well and are very smart,” Ketchum said of the Spartans. “[Today] will be a huge challenge for us.”