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Billings West boys basketball eyeing State AA crown

Posted at 12:17 PM, Dec 26, 2023

BILLINGS — Last year the Billings West boys basketball team had a goal of reaching the State AA tournament.

After a runner-up finish to Missoula Hellgate, the Golden Bears have their sights set on the ultimate prize.

"It kind of left a bad taste in our mouth losing that last game. I think it was motivation for kids in the summertime and offseason," West head coach Kelly Darragh said. "Just the idea of getting there and going through it was nice, but we'd like to win one more game this year."

"That motivates us a ton. That's not a good feeling, taking second at state. We made it a long ways last year, but we want to finish that job this year," senior Cooper Tyson said.

West faltered in its first game of the year at Missoula Big Sky, then found itself in a big hole the next day against Hellgate. The Bears rallied to win in overtime, then swept the Helena schools on the road the following weekend, something that could prove to be a turning point.

"I'll be honest, that first half against Hellgate I thought, 'OK, Friday night, we're over it. Let's move on and they understood.' Then they did that in the first half and, oh man, here we go again. Then it clicked for them," Darragh said. "We started trusting each other more. I think at the beginning we were trying to do a lot of things on our own. We weren't playing as a team. We're still not quite there but we're getting better."

Tyson is among a few returnees this year, along with point guard Ben Erbacher, and West will lean heavily on its stud senior.

"I think one of the biggest things we've talked with (Tyson) about is consistency," Darragh said. "I think Cooper is the best player in the state. I think he's the most talented player in the state. When he turns it on it's pretty unbelievable. He's done a good job of that this year. We just said we couldn't have the peaks and valleys and stuff like that. He's got to be a little more consistent."

This West team is also bigger than in years past, as it boasts Montana State football commit Braden Zimmer and sophomore Matt "Moose" Ludwig.

"We haven't had the biggest team the last couple years, and now we have two pretty big and pretty athletic guys, so it's a nice thing to have," Darragh said.

West plays its first five games this season on the road before finally returning home to face Bozeman Gallatin on Jan. 5.