No. 1 Warriors set to battle No. 2 Lander for first time this season
January 28, 2021
By ALEX KUHN
WORLAND - Moving to 10-0 on the season last week, the Worland Warriors basketball team take on their toughest opponent of the season today.
In a game between 3A's top-ranked teams and 3A Northwest rivals, WyoPreps No. 1 Warriors take on the No. 2 Lander Valley Tiger tonight at 7:30 p.m. as Lander Valley High School.
The Warriors and Tigers are familiar with one another, having gone back and forth since the creation of the 3A Northwest. Worland's only loss last season was against Lander, the last time the two met during the 3A West regional championship last year in Lyman.
The focus for Worland tonight is not to get caught up with last season.
"The big thing is that we don't turn this into the 2020 State championship game," said WHS boys basketball coach Aaron Abel. "I think Lander will be doing that, and they've had this game circled on the calendar. They thought last time we played, they'd have to wait seven days to see us again for a state championship.
"We have to realize that can't happen, and now we have to play this year's Lander team with this year's Worland team and make the focus on what we need to do to beat Lander this year."
The Tigers are coming off their first loss of the season, dropping a Jan. 23 game to Powell, 65-57, in Powell. The Warriors can't get caught up with that even if they did beat Powell by 27 on Jan. 22.
Lander has the talent to match up with Worland, their big Jonas Calvert leads 3A in blocks per game at 2.8 blocks per game, and they have a 3A West top-three scorer in Bryan St. Clair at 17.7 points per game.
Thankfully, the Warriors have two scorers in the top five, with Rudy Sanford second at 18 ppg and Mack Page at five with 15.5 ppg.
Still, defending St. Clair is the big challenge for the Warriors tonight.
"Defensively, the big question is how do we guard Bryan St. Clair? He's one of the best players in 3A, and he'll be the best player we've faced all year. How we defend him is the most important question for us this week. He's a player who can score at all three levels, he can shoot the 3, he's got a great mid-range game, and he can get to the rim and draw fouls," said Abel.
Another thing the Warriors will need to keep in mind is how much do they use their press? Much like the Warriors, the Tigers like to push the ball and quickly.
"We've been at our best when we can press for 32 minutes. Lander is the most skilled team we've played as far as being able to handle pressure, push the ball in transition and get layups versus teams who want to trap them. We have to answer the question if we want to press this team or not. Do we pick out spots, or do we get after them for the whole game," said Abel.
Worland grabbed wins No. 9 and No. 10 last week against 3A Northwest foes Powell and Lovell. The Warriors did not play their best basketball but still found ways to win convincingly.
They downed Powell 86-59 on Jan. 22 at WHS and beat Lovell 73-43 on Jan. 23, also at WHS.
Against Powell, Worland, usually dead-on from the perimeter, went 1 for 18 from 3 but still put up 86 points. Thanks in part to the strong play inside from Page.
"The good part about all weekend was that we didn't necessarily play very well, we didn't shoot it well, and we found a way to get two conference wins. We were 1 for 18 from 3 against Powell. We got outrebounded for the first time all season. Those two things could have spelled disaster for us. Instead, we won by 27.
"Mack Page inside, Powell didn't have any answers for him. You could tell Powell's plan was to chase Rudy off the arc and make him be a driver instead of a shooter. Then they stayed connected to our other shooters a bit and left Mack 1-on-1 in the post. They didn't help their post defender out, and Mack had a great night."
Against Lovell, the 3-ball came back for Worland, and one of those players helping knock down perimeter shots was reserve guard Carter Clark. The sophomore has played the shooter role working his way up the basketball ranks, but this year his all-around game has improved immensely.
"Carter has always been a shooter. He's played with this group of sophomores for many years, and that's been his role to knock down corner 3s. Guys like Court [Gonsalez] and Brock [Douzenis] and Jerry Leyva Jr., when he lived here, they would drive, and Carter was the guy to hit open 3s.
"The nice thing about Carter is since he's gotten into high school is how he's really diversified his game more and more. He turned into a defender, he had five rebounds against Lovell, and he's becoming more of a complete player. That's been fun with Carter and the same for a lot of our guys," said Abel. "Carter played 17 minutes against Lovell and earned all of them."