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Hoops: Aspen boys survive scare in playoff opener

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

GILCREST, Colo. – Steve Ketchum was hoping his Skiers could squeak out a win in Friday’s 3A playoff opener with simple man-to-man defense.

But with 14th-seeded Aspen trailing by five with about

4 minutes to play against No. 19 The Academy, the coach had no choice but to make a switch – and spoil the surprise.



“We didn’t want to show the winner of the next game what we wanted to do [on defense] … but our offense was so bad I didn’t think we could generate enough points to get over the hump,” Ketchum said. “We had to throw the 1-3-1 half-court trap at them. We had to turn up the heat.”

The decision helped keep the Skiers’ postseason hopes afloat. The defensive pressure forced multiple turnovers and multiple open looks; freshman Clayton Crawford drained a 3-pointer with little more than 2 minutes on the clock to square the game. Guard Quinn Morehead stretched the lead to two possessions with two free throws in the final seconds, and Aspen escaped with a 32-28 victory over the Wildcats at Valley High School in Gilcrest.




The Skiers will square off with No. 3 Valley (19-4), a 61-47 winner over No. 30 Manual in other action Friday, at 1 p.m. in today’s round of 16. The winner will advance to the

Great 8 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

“The good news is it’s not possible for us to play any worse on the offensive end,” Ketchum said. “That was the absolute worst offensive performance of the year by far. … It was embarrassing.

“Thank god they never quit fighting.”

Aspen cruised to a 54-27 victory over The Academy in last year’s playoff opener. Friday, fresh off a loss to Roaring Fork in last weekend’s Western Slope district title game, it scored the first two baskets.

Led by standout Bridger Dawson, who scored nine of his team-leading 11 points in the first half, the Skiers took a

19-15 lead at the break.

Things took a turn for the worse in the third and fourth quarters, however, as Aspen scored just four points in the first 12 minutes of the second half.

“I was thinking, “Who are these guys?'” Ketchum said. “[The Academy] was playing a standard 2-3 zone, and we couldn’t do anything. We were passing the ball and it was sailing over heads, throwing cross-court passes that got stolen, dropping the ball and fumbling it. It was an absolute nightmare.”

With 4 minutes remaining, Ketchum called a timeout – and called for the 1-3-1.

The move paid off, producing a steal and a bucket from Jake Nugent, then the clutch 3 from Crawford.

“Give them credit – they turned up the heat so hard,” Ketchum said. “Those last 4 minutes, we created turnovers and the momentum we needed to finally get a little bit of a lead and hang on.”

Morehead gave the Skiers some long-awaited breathing room from the line in the final seconds. He finished with seven points, while Crawford added six for Aspen, which improved to 15-8.

“To play like that and still survive and pull out a victory, that’s something,” Ketchum admitted. “We’ll take it.”

2010’s state runner-up now sets its sights on Valley in today’s sub-region final. If the Skiers win, they will make their fourth consecutive trip to CSU’s Moby Arena.

That’s a big if, Ketchum said.

“They look great, super-talented at every position. Great skill level and great experience,” the coach said of the Vikings. “They definitely look to be a final four team at state. … We’ll really have to be on both sides of the court – any less than that and you don’t [advance]. It’s going to take a minor miracle.”

jmaletz@aspentimes.com


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