The effort is most certainly there.
In the absence of 6-foot-8 senior center Connor Osborne, Columbine’s boys basketball team has compensated for the loss of their stud player by playing ultra-aggressive defense, hustling to loose balls and running an efficient offense.
Only one element is missing – and it’s a big one.
For all their hard work off the ball, the Rebels should be rewarded with an abundance of points. Yet, the basketball simply refuses to drop through the cylinder enough times for Columbine to be completely satisfied with how they are playing ball.
Case in point: On Dec. 12 Columbine hosted Highlands Ranch in a Class 5A nonleague tilt. The Rebels were flying around the ball on defense, hitting the hardwood whenever a loose ball was up for grabs and attacked both the offensive and defensive glass with ferocity. And yet, when the final buzzer sounded, it was the Falcons rejoicing the 63-57 final score.
“That’s been the story for us the entire year,” Columbine coach Jeff Wennberg said. “Our shots just haven’t fallen and we’re still shooting less than 50 percent from the (free throw) line. It’s just something we’ve got to work on. The kids are doing their best and as long as they are working hard, I can’t be mad at them.”
The offensive woes were compounded Dec. 12 when starting guard Neil Myer went out of the game in the opening minutes of the first quarter with a right ankle injury. Myer returned to the bench minutes after exiting the game, but the large ice pack attached the injured ankle made it clear he would not be returning to the floor.
“That definitely changed things for us,” Wennberg said. “Neil’s one of our best off-the-ball movement guys. He’s really good at setting up his screens and getting the offense moving. That was a tough break; it was his first start of his career.”
Thanks primarily to its defense, Columbine jumped out to a 17-10 lead early in the second quarter. A 3-pointer by Colin Varney gave the Rebels a 20-15 edge, but it was the final points of the half for the Rebels, who were outscored 11-0 down the stretch and trailed 26-20 at halftime.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Beau Smith drew Columbine even at 29 midway through the third and the home team entered the fourth quarter trailing 39-33. In the final stanza, Highlands Ranch slowly began to pull away and Marcus Byrd’s three-point play with 3 minutes, 19 seconds to go essentially sealed the win for the visitors, increasing the Falcons’ lead to 52-42.
“We did a good job of battling back several times,” Wennberg said. “It was just whenever we really needed a basket, we just couldn’t get it to fall.”
Columbine, which scored 15 points in the final three minutes for its biggest offensive output of the game, did knock down six 3-pointers – two by Varney, three by Smith – in the game. Garrett Hurlbut showed flashes of stellar play, including an aggressive drive to the basket and 3-pointer late in the game.
The Rebels are looking forward to 2009, as Osborne, who recently committed to the University of Northern Colorado, is expected to rejoin the team.
“I call him our big security blanket,” Wennberg said of Osborne. “He bails us out when we’re having a bad possession on defense and is a force for us inside on offense. We’re shooting under 40 percent from 10 feet and in right now. I’d expect that to improve when he gets back.”