Denver Coliseum’s grand stage doesn’t scare Tigers

Jamie Derrieux and the Grand Junction Tigers won’t be intimidated by playing in the Denver Coliseum tonight against ThunderRidge.

The bright lights of the big arena won’t be a problem.

Playing in the Denver Coliseum tonight against ThunderRidge shouldn’t affect the Grand Junction High School girls basketball team.

“There is a lot of space in those places,” Grand Junction coach Sam Provenza said. “There is no wall behind the basket, and they have to acclimate themselves to that.”

Grand Junction hasn’t been this far in the postseason since 2006.  That season, the top-seeded Tigers made the Great 8 and lost to No. 2 ThunderRidge 62-45 in the Denver Coliseum.

“There is nothing else to duplicate those big arenas over there,” Provenza said. “The people are a long way away from the sidelines, so it tends to be less noisy.”

This current group of Tigers (18-7) is determined to take the next step for the program.

“We can’t let who we are playing or where we are playing intimidate us,” Tigers forward Fawn Brady said. “We have to go out and play our hardest.”

The third-seeded Grand Junction defeated second-seeded Palmer 48-41 in the Sweet 16 on Tuesday to advance into tonight’s game with the top-seeded Grizzlies.

“I think we got a good draw,” Provenza said. “We’re in a good spot because we could be playing (Highlands) Ranch or Monarch, but I’d rather be playing who we are playing.”

ThunderRidge isn’t a mystery to the Tigers. Grand Junction faced ThunderRidge in the Fruita Invitational the past two seasons, including a 61-34 loss in 2009.

This year’s ThunderRidge team is led by senior Carlie Needles, who averages 26.5 points per game.

“We have to try to stop Carlie Needles,” Provenza said. “Wait, let me rephrase that. We have to slow down Carlie Needles because she’s a talent, and you aren’t going to stop her.”

With Needles — who has committed to the University of Florida — running the show, ThunderRidge’s approach is to push the tempo of the game.

“They don’t play great defense, they play adequate defense, but they want to get out and score,” Provenza said. “We have to limit their transition game because they like to run and try to outscore you.”

The Grizzlies don’t have unmanageable size for the Tigers. The Grizzlies’ tallest starter is 5-foot-11 Taylor Chase, who averages 7.5 points per game.

“They have a lot of 5-10 kids which is a lot like Grand Junction High School,” Provenza said. “I told the kids last night that there are teams I wouldn’t let you see on film because they are scary.

“But this is a team that reminds me of a high school basketball team. They aren’t untouchable, but we have to play our best.”

The Tigers have been playing some of their best basketball of the season in the past two weeks. Grand Junction has gotten off to quick starts in its first two playoff games, holding double-digit leads in the first quarter against both Loveland and Palmer.

“We’ve really given it our all every time we go out there,” Brady said. “The chemistry we have, not a lot of teams have.”


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