The Billings West guys had to eat the feeling of disappointment all offseason.
The Golden Bears were absent from last year’s State AA tournament at First Interstate Arena here in Billings, which served as motivation entering this year.
“Big time. Especially it being here in Billings at the Metra, it was kind of in our own backyard. You don't want to miss out on that. This year we're really set on we want to be there and we want to compete for a state title," senior Billy Carlson said.
It’s clearly worked well, as the Bears are 8-1 and No. 2 in the latest MTN Sports Class AA boys power rankings. Both players and head coach Kelly Darragh are quick to credit the team’s chemistry and unselfishness as the key.
“I just think it's the type of kids we have, this group. They don't really care who gets the credit. They don't care," Darragh said. "We always talk about how we play probably the most selfish sport there is in basketball, where all anybody really seems to care about is scoring. And this group is really good about it. They just want to win."
“We've played together since we were kids, so everybody knows each other and the style of play. We kind of knew we were going to be good going into it, we've just got to keep going," junior Cooper Tyson said.
Fast starts have also been important for the Bears, as they’ve raced out to big halftime leads several times this year. The second half, however, has been West’s kryptonite at times, including in their only loss when Bozeman Gallatin overcame a 16-point West lead at halftime to win by eight.
“It was a big wake-up call. Just keep your foot on the gas, don't become complacent, don't get comfortable, because it's 32 minutes. It's not just 16, it's not three quarters, it's a full four quarters," Carlson said.
“It's not obviously what we want. We've had a pretty comfortable lead, and it is a little bit like where we've coasted, and it's something we've got to fix. That's one of the big things we're kind of working on and that idea. We've got to basically learn to play with the lead, we've got to learn that when we get someone down to keep them down. But we've also got to learn how to fight, and I think that's what we've been able to do," Darragh said.
If West can start putting 32 minutes of basketball together, it will be a scary sight for opposing teams.