The Panthers pooled their potential in a 46-43 win over Star Valley on Friday night, and showcased all of their shortcomings during Saturday’s 61-25 loss to Jackson.
Friday’s win over the 12-5 Braves snapped an 11-game losing streak and finally proved what PHS head coach Chase Kistler knew all along.
“Now we know. Not only can we play with the top dogs, we know that we can beat them,” Kistler said. “It also highlighted how hard we’re going to play to win those games. I think it kind of dawned on them that they can win those big games.”
Friday’s high note was muffled, at least temporarily, by Saturday afternoon’s drubbing at the hands of the Broncs (9-10). The game was virtually out of reach when the Panthers fell behind 17-2 five and a half minutes into the first quarter.
But Kistler said the weekend was a net positive, even if the Panthers couldn’t duplicate their performance against the Braves.
“We can’t be too disappointed going 1-1 against two really good teams,” he said. “It’s a constant learning process. They learned very quickly that even after a win they have to let it go and focus on the next game.”
Three Panthers scored at least a dozen points and Powell fought off a late rally to pick up its first win since a 41-39 victory against Class 2A Rocky Mountain on Jan. 7.
Freshman Carson Heinen led the charge with 15 points, while senior Kaden Moore had 13 and senior Kristian Stenlund added 12.
“I think that was probably Carson’s best game — Carson and Kaden,” Kistler said.
Moore opened the offense with his dribble-penetration and both contributed to Powell’s cause on the boards. He led the team with eight rebounds, followed by five from Heinen.
“We out-rebounded them by almost 15 rebounds,” Kistler said. “We gave them their one shot and if they missed it, that’s it.”
Powell’s defense set the tone early in the low-scoring contest. The Braves’ slow, deliberate half-court offense was challenged to find scoring opportunities against the Panthers’ man defense.
“The shots that they did get, they really had to work to get them,” Kistler said.
The Panthers opened up a double digit lead in the second half but Star Valley clawed back to make things interesting in the game’s final minutes.
“They hit two big threes. In my head I’m thinking that’s what they’re going to do, they’re going to hit big shots,” Kistler said. “(But) I knew if we just made our free throws at the end we don’t give them an opportunity to hit a game-winning shot.”
Jackson hit its de facto game-winner with 6:27 left in the first half. An and-one play made it 26-6, and supplied the Broncs with all the scoring they would need.
Powell’s offense dutifully ran through its actions, but was unable to capitalize on the clean shots it produced.
“We just couldn’t hit shots,” Kistler said.
Moore led the Panthers with eight points. Heinen had six, all of which came in the 21-6 first quarter.
“I’m not sure if they played so hard the night before that they were tired and sluggish, or they were feeling satisfied with what happened the night before,” Kistler said.
Jackson shot lights out from the 3-point line thanks to a drive-and-kick offense that left shooters open — usually in the corners or along the wing.
Last battles of the basin
Powell finishes its regular season with home games against division foes Lovell and Cody.
The Bulldogs come to town Thursday for a 7 p.m. contest, while the season-finale against the Broncs is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday.
The Panthers fell 45-40 at Cody on Feb. 5 and could use a win against the Broncs to propel themselves into the region tournament.
“They’re going to be motivated just because it’s Cody,” Kistler said. “Also motivated too, because the challenge I put forth to them was to defend our home court.”
Cody (13-6) beat both Jackson (56-53) and Star Valley (61-58) by three points over the weekend.
Thursday will be the third meeting between Powell and Lovell. The Bulldogs won 50-31 in a non-conference game on Jan. 9, and took another 19-point win in a 61-42 contest on Jan. 22.
Kistler said Powell’s change to a slow-paced offense could make a difference the third time around.
“Our offense, early in the season we were trying to push the ball up the court, it wasn’t until Mountain View (Jan. 29) that we started slowing it down,” Kistler said. “It’s cut down on turnovers. I think we had over 20 turnovers against (Lovell), and they had over 20 points off them.”