Local playoff basketball games preview, Tues. Feb. 23, 2010

No. 9 Smoky Hill (8-15) at No. 8 Grand Junction (15-8)

Time: 7 p.m., Grand Junction High School.

League: Smoky Hill — Centennial (5-9); Grand Junction — Southwestern (6-4)

Coach: Smoky Hill — Keenon Clement, 2nd year; Grand Junction — Dutch Johnson, 7th year

Past 10: Smoky Hill — 4-6; Grand Junction — 6-4

Leading Scorer: Smoky Hill — Nico Perry, 13 ppg; Grand Junction — Tommy Powers, 13 ppg

Next game: The winner plays Friday at No. 1 Montbello (21-2)

Notes: The interesting subplot of this game is the return of former Palisade High School boys coach Keenon Clement to the Grand Valley. Clement coached the Bulldogs for four seasons before moving on with the Buffaloes last season. In fact, Clement is familiar with Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson as the two are former roommates.

“Keenon is a good friend of mine,” Johnson said.

Clement returns with a team that had to fight to simply make the postseason. The Buffaloes won three of their past four over playoff teams Cherokee Trail, Cherry Creek and Eaglecrest. Despite finishing with only eight wins, the Buffaloes received a No. 9 seed which speaks to the difficulty of the Centennial League.

They will be taking on a Grand Junction team that’s qualified for the postseason in all of Johnson’s seven years as coach. The Tigers have failed to make it out of the first round only once, and look to keep that going despite having their lowest seed since 2007 when they were the No. 11 seed. Grand Junction hasn’t been playing its brand of basketball as of late, losing two close games to rivals Fruita Monument and Central. The Tigers have more size than the Buffaloes, but have to control Smoky Hill’s quickness.

“They are pretty fast, and they like to penetrate and shoot from the outside,” Johnson said. “We’ll have to do a better job of guarding penetration.”

Offensively, the key for the Tigers is to get post player Jesse Smith involved early to open up opportunities for players like Tommy Powers, Casey Burns and Tyler Winder.

No. 12 Palisade (9-14) at No. 5 Greeley Central (15-8)

Time: 7 p.m., Greeley Central High School

League: Palisade — Western Slope (5-9); Greeley Central — Northern (13-7)

Coach: Palisade — Steve Phillips, 2nd year; Greeley Central — Troy Graefe, 12th year

Past 10: Palisade — 3-7;  Greeley Central — 7-3

Leading Scorer: Palisade — Jeremy Hayden, 17 ppg; Greeley Central — Gilbert Vasquez, 15.7 ppg

Next Game: The winner plays Friday at No. 4 Widefield (15-8)

Notes: It’s fair to say Palisade backed its way into the Class 4A playoffs. After a strong start to the WSL season, the Bulldogs lost momentum and dropped seven straight league games. But never saying die, the Bulldogs pulled out the regular season finale against Rifle, winning 66-47. With that win, Palisade’s in the playoffs and Rifle is out.

“I felt that was about as good as we could get because we didn’t finish strong,” Palisade coach Steve Phillips said.

Although the second half of the season didn’t go as planned, the Bulldogs are in the playoffs and not an easy draw for Greeley Central. Palisade has four different players, Hayden, Kane Gunther, Nate Yanez and Dakota Bond, that are always threats to score in double-digits. They have size with Hayden and Bond along with strong role players like Gabe Hellmann and Caleb Hall.

“If we do the things that we do well like shoot the basketball and play good defense, we can compete,” Phillips said.

The Bulldogs face a Greeley Central team that has played top notch competition lately. The Wildcats lost their final two games, but nearly beat No. 1 seed Sterling before losing 60-57, then lost to No. 3 Broomfield by 10 points. The Wildcats are led by seniors Vasquez, Xzaivier James and Cameron Meusch.

No. 12 Palisade (6-15) at No. 5 Evergreen (17-6)

Time: 5:30 p.m., Evergreen High School

League: Palisade — Western Slope (6-8); Evergreen — Jefferson County (10-4)

Coach: Palisade — Toni Gunther, 2nd year; Evergreen — Ali Meyers, 6th year

Past 10: Palisade — 4-6; Evergreen — 7-3

Leading Scorer: Palisade — Nicole Routhier, 10 ppg; Evergreen — Grace Beaudin, 12.5 ppg

Next Game: Winner plays Friday at Longmont (20-3)

Notes: Heading into the second to the last game of the regular season against Delta, the Palisade girls were in a must-win situation to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Bulldogs won and earned a berth in the 4A playoffs. It was obviously close as Palisade earned a No. 12 seed, and had the lowest number of wins in the tournament with only six.

“Winning against Delta was a big deal for us,” Palisade coach Toni Gunther said. “That was a good one to get, and everybody is starting fresh at this point.”

Palisade is a hard team to gauge as its play can be inconsistent. The Bulldogs split with every team in the WSL except for Rifle, which beat Palisade twice. Palisade plays strong defense, limiting teams to 50 points per game, but has to get a strong offensive output to stay competitive. The Bulldogs have made the playoffs in both of Gunther’s seasons as head coach, and feel a lot better about their positioning this year.

“I’m really proud of the kids because we’ve improved a lot over the season,” Gunther said. “Sometimes it’s hard to see with wins and losses, but we know kids have been working hard.”

The Bulldogs are taking on an Evergreen team that didn’t lose to a team under .500 all year. The Cougars are 10-2 at home this season, and have options offensively as Beaudin and Jordan Florschuetz both average more than 10 points per game.


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