Hoops: Aspen boys surging after impressive weekend
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – The Aspen boys have yet to crack The Denver Post’s 3A state hoops poll. A few more weekends like this, however, and the Skiers will be a fixture in the top 10 for the next few months.
Aspen overcame one of its worst starts of the season with one of its best second halves to pull away from Cedaredge on the road Friday night. One day later, it dominated the glass and led comfortably throughout in an impressive home victory over Rifle, one that helped the Skiers assume sole possession of first place in the 3A Western Slope.
Surging Aspen (7-2 overall, 4-0 conference) enters Friday’s matchup with struggling rival Basalt riding a seven-game win streak.
“We’ve got to keep plugging away, keep getting better and keep winning,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said Monday. “I’m very happy with where we’re at right now, and how the guys have overcome some adversity. Everybody seems to elevate their games when we’re in a tough spot.”
Aspen could muster just three first-quarter points against the Bruins on Friday, and trailed by 12 at the break.
The Skiers missed five of eight free throw attempts and turned the ball over 14 times in the first 16 minutes, Ketchum said.
“We came out flat and played horrible … They smoked us to the rim, we were giving up lay-ups and they were shooting the ball great,” he added. “I was pretty tough on them during the game and during timeouts. I was trying to get them motivated and focused, and I wasn’t having any success.”
Impassioned halftime speeches from the team’s senior leaders in the locker room apparently did the trick. Aspen outscored Cedaredge, 29-7, in the third quarter en route to a 69-51 win.
Guard James Powell provided a spark with 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions, Ketchum said. Clayton Crawford pitched in with a pair of long-distance baskets, and team standouts Quinn Morehead and Austin Roark hooked up for the play of the night: Morehead streaked toward the basket in transition, then tossed the ball off the backboard to fellow senior Roark, who slammed the ball with both hands.
“There was no turning back after that,” Ketchum said. “That was one of the best halves I’ve ever seen. We scored (52) points, and did that without pressing.”
Jake Nugent paced the Skiers with 19 points and six rebounds. Roark pitched in with 12, Powell and Crawford each scored nine and Morehead finished with eight.
A similarly balanced attack – paired with stout defense – helped Aspen seize control early in Saturday’s game with Rifle. The Bears scored just six points in the opening quarter, five in the second and trailed by 15 at halftime. The Skiers cruised, 53-35.
“I scouted them and knew what they had coming back. They were just capable of lighting up the scoreboard from the 3-point line. We did a good job of taking that away from them,” Ketchum said. “Our most powerful players dominated the glass all game – that made it hard on them.”
Four Skiers pulled down six or more rebounds against Rifle. In addition, three players – Roark (16), Morehead (14) and Nugent (11) – scored in double figures.
Aspen’s early season, two-game slide now is little more than a footnote.
“We’re not in the poll yet, but we’re climbing,” Ketchum said. “Those two losses early, (the voters don’t know why we lost), but we all know why. We had three key starters missing. With them in the lineup, we easily could be 9-0.”
The Skiers should notch win No. 8 Friday against the winless Longhorns.
Saturday, they host Grand Valley in a battle of the Slope’s top two teams. The Cardinals boast one of the league’s best perimeter games and best players; Trever Smith is averaging 18.6 points per game and shoots nearly 40 percent from behind the arc.
“If he crosses half court, he’s a threat to shoot it,” Ketchum said. “That will be a tough matchup for us.”
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