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Powell High School junior T.J. Abraham spins in mid air following a shot during Powell’s 76-43 loss in Worland on Friday night. Powell High School junior T.J. Abraham spins in mid air following a shot during Powell’s 76-43 loss in Worland on Friday night. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

Panthers fall to 0-5 against state’s best division

The Class 3A Northeast division continued its feast on the Powell High School boys basketball team over the weekend.

The Panthers fell to 0-5 against the stacked quartet, all four teams of which are ranked in the top seven — including the top two — of Class 3A, with back-to-back losses against No. 5 Worland and No. 2 Douglas.

Turnovers and stagnant offensive possessions extended Powell’s losing streak to four games with Friday’s 76-43 blowout in Worland and Saturday’s 57-43 home loss to the Bearcats.

PHS head coach Chase Kistler said his team again showed potential, but failed to put together a complete game.

“You see highlights and flashes of what the kids can do, and sometimes it’s, ‘Where’d they go?’” Kistler said. “We’re still moving forward though.”

Powell fared better in Saturday’s matinee against the Bearcats, who pulled away from a scrapping Panthers squad in the middle two quarters.

Powell was down 13-12 two minutes into the second quarter and looked poised to keep pace with the Bearcats through the end of the half. Douglas (10-1) got into early foul trouble and put Powell into the bonus nearly six minutes before halftime.

“We were making runs here and there and chipping away,” Kistler said. “I don’t think any of us ever lost hope that we were out of that game.”

But Douglas went on a 9-2 run over the next three minutes to open a 10-point lead. Powell’s Zach Meredith hit a pair of free throws at the end of the quarter to cut the Douglas lead to 27-21 at the half. Powell was 18 for 27 from the free throw line.

The Bearcats broke the game open with a 16-7 third quarter, a frame that’s given Powell trouble all season.

“The third quarter, it’s hard to explain,” Kistler said.

Deliberate adjustments in halftime speeches and warm-up routines haven’t yet translated into better results, especially on the offensive end.

“We had good looks, too. There were times we were right at the basket and they wouldn’t go down,” Kistler said. “T.J. (Abraham) had a short jumper, Kristian (Stenlund) had a short jumper, and we just couldn’t knock it down.”

Stenlund led Powell with 13 points, Abraham scored 12, Kaden Moore had nine and Meredith added five.

Powell outscored Douglas 15-14 in the final frame.

“We actually shot the ball more and attacked the basket a lot more. In all it was a huge improvement from last weekend and the night before,” Kistler said. “I was impressed with how we fought for four quarters, and we had some young guys that had to play some big minutes.”

Sophomores Zach Meredith and Max Gallagher saw significant time against the Bearcats, and impressed Kistler as they continued to gain experience.

A short jumper by Abraham followed by a 3-pointer by Moore brought the Panthers to within 12, as close as they would get in the final quarter.

Powell found itself down by 12 after just one quarter of play against Worland Friday night.

Eight days after allowing a season-high 66 points to the Warriors in the semifinals of the Big Horn Basin Basketball Classic, the Panthers gave up 76 to the Warriors, who entered the weekend as the second-highest scoring team in Class 3A.

“Worland is a good team, I think they (Powell’s players) understand that they are just kind of out of our league right now,” Kistler said. “It’s nothing that we can’t accomplish by the end of the year.”

The Warriors (5-3) again showcased their ability to score in bunches, both at the rim and from the perimeter. The threat of the drive opened up the 3-point shot and allowed Worland to extend leads in no time at all.

Powell’s offense struggled to create scoring chances against the Worland defense, which forced 27 Panther turnovers. Many possessions would begin with the Panthers swinging the ball around the perimeter, unable to find an open shot, and attempts to feed the post were often mishandled or intercepted.

Through game film, Kistler said he’s been able to zero in on the cause of Powell’s biggest turnover issues.

“Most of our turnovers come from trying to force it into a bad situation, or from an extremely bad pass,” said Kistler, who will try to find a fix in practice. “We’re spending too much time with our head down, so more drills that have us pushing the ball up the court with passes instead of the dribble.”

Stenlund’s 13 points against Worland paced the Panthers, who got eight points from Moore, five from Abraham and four from Jace Smith.

Carson Heinen entered the weekend as Powell’s second-leading scorer at 9.3 points per game, but didn’t make his only field goal of the game until the fourth quarter. He finished with two points.

Picking up the pace

Powell’s offensive woes could be remedied with an uptick in tempo.

“My first philosophy was trying to keep them slow-paced so we don’t turn it over,” Kistler said.

That might have to change given Powell’s inefficient shooting through nine games.

“I’m looking at how many shots that we’re taking per game, and we’re taking five or six less shots than every other team. We have to shoot more, especially if we’re not hitting,” Kistler said.

The switch could pay immediate dividends at Lovell on Friday.

The Bulldogs (5-4) rely on their superior size, but have trouble getting back in transition, Kistler said. If the Panthers run the floor well they could use their speed to their advantage.

Powell’s first conference game tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Friday in Lovell. The Panthers host Lander at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Powell lost in Lovell 50-31 on Jan. 9. in a non-conference game.

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