Warriors sprint out to a 3-0 start
December 24, 2020
WORLAND - With three games under their belts, the Worland Warriors basketball team heads into the holiday break with a 3-0 record, a convincing 3-0 at that.
Playing the Hot Springs County Bobcats on Dec. 15, the Torrington Trailblazers on Dec. 18 and Burns Broncs on Dec. 19, all of which were road games, Worland picked up from where they left off last season. The Warriors beat the Bobcats 84-55, the Trailblazers 69-36 and the Broncs 79-33.
"For the first week, I really liked how well we played," said WHS boys basketball coach Aaron Abel. "I thought our shot selection was really, really good. I think we're playing unselfish, fast basketball, which is the way we want to play. Those were the things that we thought were good in all three games.
"All three teams played zone defense, we saw a tiny bit of man, but it was pretty much zone all week. Rather than swing the ball around the perimeter and launch 3s, we were made to get paint touches against the zone."
There were the first game jitters for the Warriors against the Bobcats, who were playing their fourth game of the season. Once things settled down, the Warriors kicked it into gear and began to separate themselves from the Thermopolis.
Then in their weekend games, Worland executed even better.
"I thought the Thermopolis game being our first game, a lot of guys were tight. The good thing is that we played all 12 guys in all three games, and six of those guys have never played in a varsity game before. Some of our guys were a little nervous and played a little tight.
"Brock Douzenis was a guy we started against Thermop then decided to bring off the bench in the Torrington and Burns game to get him into the flow of the game, and he played much better Friday and Saturday. So that was a nice surprise," said Abel.
Sophomores Carter Clark and Landen Gilmore made the most of the minutes. Clark, a guard, helped push the Warriors offense and knocked down an open 3 when given the opportunity. A forward and reserve behind fellow big Mack Page, Gilmore contributed offensively and helped on the defensive end, especially in the Burns game.
"Carter Clark and Landen Gilmore have been two sophomores who have played in their first varsity games and done some really nice things. Carter hit three 3s in the Thermopolis game. Landen subbed in for Mack in the Burns game. Burns has a kid who's 6-6, 250 pounds, and Landen did a great job defensively and blocked his shot a couple of times," said Abel. "He was left open on the perimeter, and Landen has a nice shot and knocked down a 3 as well. We were impressed with those two guys."
The Warriors had players chip in multiple ways, but the team's top option is Rudy Sanford. The senior hits at a nearly 50-percent clip from beyond-the-arc, and when he does miss, the Warriors are often a benefit of the long rebound.
One thing Abel has challenged Sanford to do this season is to shoot through any slumps. Against Thermopolis, Sanford got off to a slow start but found his rhythm later in the game.
"Rudy started off the game [vs. Thermopolis] not shooting great. We've focused on this year that we want him to shoot through it, and he did. He's 12 for 25 from 3, and that's about the number of attempts we want from him. We think that a Rudy 3-point shot is one of our best offensive possessions because he's shooting at a 50-percent clip, and when he misses, we get the rebound most of the time," said Abel.
The Warriors' rebounding on both ends of the court was excellent in all three games. They hit the offensive glass hard and held teams to one-and-done on the defensive end.
"That was another good thing, we were undersized in the weekend games, and we're rebounding 40 percent of our missed shots right now, and our opponents are only rebounding 16 percent of their missed shots. We're rebounding at a fairly high level," said Abel.
Just as it was last season, depth will play a huge role in the Warriors success this season. While they might not get to play all 12 players in every game, the fact they were able to in their first three.
What's better for Worland, and scary for the rest of 3A, is that the team is still building their chemistry. And you figure with more minutes together, and the more comfortable each player gets within their role, along with the team's natural unselfish behavior, things will only continue to point upward.
"The fact that we were able to get so many different guys significant minutes, 12 guys played eight minutes or more in all three games. That was a good thing. In the Thermop game, we were able to play through those first-game jitters. At this point in the season, our depth and conditioning are going to win the day until we're better on both ends of the floor in the half-court game," said Abel.
Finding that reliable perimeter defender is something the Warriors will work on in the early portion of the season. Sophomore Court Gonsalez and junior Taylor Pierce could work as a nice tandem to take away the opposing team's best guards.
"On a bright note, Court Gonsalez and Taylor Pierce took their turns guarding the best perimeter player and did a really good job. Burns was more of a post-oriented team, and it was up to Mack Page and Landen Gilmore to get things done in that game," said Abel.
As the Warriors head into the holiday break, there's still plenty for them to work on even after the margins they won by. They are far from a finished product on defense.
One thing Abel and his staff kept stressing to the Warriors, in their first week of games, was not falling into any bad habits.
"I think it got better as the week went on, but we gave up 36 points in the paint against Thermopolis. We were struggling behind the ball-line; we weren't sprinting. The thing we were trying to preach all weekend was not to develop bad habits.
"We likened it to football. Our team went down to Rawlins and dominated the game. Taylor Pierce was allowed to run one way then cut back against the grain and dance around and spring 30 yards still," said Abel. "Then we went to play Riverton and Douglas and Cody to close out the year, and those same runs that were open for Taylor against Rawlins weren't open against good defenses."
Abel continued, "It was kind of the same thing for us from a basketball standpoint. We wanted to make sure we weren't developing bad habits. Our transition defense and gap defense against Thermopolis needed to be better. Thermop and Torrington like to play five-out and drive. Those things got better against Torrington and Burns, and that's why you need games at this point in the season. They uncover the things that you're not doing well.