By Craig Harper
For the Courier
Even for a veteran team, the Columbine boys’ non-league schedule would have been daunting. Throw in the fact the Rebels were rebuilding after losing their top five scorers, and “killer’’ became an appropriate adjective.
It played out that way for Clay Thielking’s squad, which went 2-5 with losses to four ranked 5A and 4A teams before opening Jeffco play with a three-point loss to Ralston Valley.
But after a 50-44 road victory on Jan. 10 that snapped Dakota Ridge’s six-game winning streak and dropped the Eagles from the Jeffco unbeaten ranks, the brutal early stretch seemed like a blessing in disguise.
“We’ve been well-tested, and games like this is where we hope that tough schedule pays off,” Thielking said. “Tonight it did, but we have a lot of growing to do and a lot of room for improvement. But we’re going to keep moving in the right direction and keep playing hard.”
Trailing 44-43 with about three minutes left, the Rebels (4-7, 2-2 5A Jeffco) held Dakota Ridge (7-2, 2-1) to 0-of-6 shooting down the stretch while going 5-of-7 from the free throw line to secure their third win in four games.
“I think we surprised some people,” said Brandon Wilson, the Rebels’ senior center.
The 6-foot-8 Wilson, who was suspended for the season’s first two games for violating team rules, paved the way with a game-high 20 points, including the game’s lone field goal in the final three minutes. The Rebels needed all of Wilson’s offense as Tucker Holden and Keaton Matthies, their Nos. 2 and 3 scorers on the season, combined for just two field goals and 10 points.
Wilson also helped Columbine dominate play around the baskets, a factor that did not escape Dakota Ridge coach Curi Yutzy.
“They found a way to get the ball into the paint almost every single possession,” Yutzy said. “And that’s one thing we didn’t do; they kept us out of that. They did a great job of dominating inside, not necessarily with just post touches but with the dribble as well. They were always in the paint.”
The well-balanced Eagles — all nine players who saw action scored, none with more than eight points — also suffered from too many turnovers and a 19-3 Columbine scoring advantage from the foul line.
The Eagles forged a 25-19 lead late in the first half by hitting four 3-pointers in the second quarter (they had six in the half) before Columbine ran off five unanswered points before the break. But the long-range success was false security.
“We don’t shoot the ball that well,” Yutzy admitted. “We were too much on the perimeter vs. not enough in the paint, and we never got it fixed.”
Neither team led by more than four points in the second half until Columbine’s 7-0 finishing run.