GREAT FALLS — Offense wins games but defense wins championships.
That motto has become the unofficial identity of the Great Falls CMR Rustlers boys basketball team who currently sit in second place in the Eastern AA standings with a big win over crosstown rival Great Falls High last Friday, Feb. 11.
“We got a good group of seniors and Cole [Taylor] has been playing with us since last year so I just think us believing in one another and trusting each other to make the right play and the smart play has fueled us to go on a little run here,” senior Raef Newbrough said.
A main key to their success has been their ability to create turnovers out of their ball pressure and their 1-3-1 zone defense. Currently, according to head coach John Cislo, the Rustlers lead the Eastern AA in turnovers created per game at 22.
“We can rotate players really quickly. We can tire teams out really fast. I think that’s why our defense is so effective,” senior Gavin Grosenick explained. Grosenick and Newbrough are instrumental parts to the defense with their length and athleticism.
“It’s just about pressuring the ball and being in position and getting in passing lanes and getting run out layups so we can have another aspect to our offense that works well,” Newbrough added.
The defensive scheme came about almost eight years ago when Cislo wanted a change of pace for his team trying to get the upper hand on teams coming in to play them.
“We knew we were going to have a rough season so we thought okay what can we do different than anybody else because I figured teams coming into Great Falls were going to be preparing for Brendan Howard at the time and I thought let’s do something different; we’ll play 1-3-1; it’ll be hard to prepare against,” said Cislo.
The team struggled the last few years but are turning the corner this season with an 8-5 overall record and 6-3 conference record in the hope that they finish the season strong. With no real superstar to shoulder the heavy lifting offensively, the team has relied on a deep, nine-man rotation and a host of seniors that are accustomed to the varsity game.
“I think all of them have played significant varsity minutes so they’ve had to be tough and gritty because of what they’ve been through the last three, four years,” Cislo said.
“We struggled, then my junior we still struggled because we didn’t believe in each other or believed in what the coaches were telling us to do and now we’ve just started to trust each other and do well,” Newbrough added.
The Rustlers next test will be against the number one seed in the Eastern AA in Bozeman High (13-1, 10-0) on the road, Thursday, Feb. 17.