Every sports team knows, you never want to get caught looking ahead.
That was the danger for Evergreen its Class 4A boys basketball state tournament opening round game Feb. 25 against visiting Delta.
With the Panthers coming into the game as a 12th-seeded team and with a losing record in the Western Slope League, it would have been very easy for the Cougars to overlook them with an eye toward a potential match-up with the Thomas Jefferson Spartans on Feb. 28.
It would have been easy to do, but that’s not what the No. 5 Cougars did.
Evergreen came out loaded for bear and built a quick early lead, then cruised to their ninth straight victory 71-41, in a game that may not have been as close as the final score would indicate. The Cougars built a 29-point lead before halftime, which allayed any fears that their coach Scott Haebe may have had about them not being focused on the task at hand.
“That’s always a concern,” said Haebe of his team looking ahead. “But I thought in the first quarter and a half we came out and played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, and we kind of jumped on them right away and took the wind out of their sails — that was the game right there.”
“We’re looking forward to the next game now,” said Cougars senior Kurt Dieter after the game. “But we had to get through this one first. Coach was making sure we didn’t look ahead to TJ.”
The Cougars did their damage early in the game, aggressively attacking the basket and building an 18-7 lead without even attempting a shot of longer than five feet.
Evergreen’s up-tempo play had the Panthers backpedaling hard after every one of their missed shots, which usually resulted in a Cougar layup.
When Haebe went to his bench late in the first quarter the style turned from inside out, but the results were pretty much the same. Reserves Maciah Herbert and Chris Hudak combined for three 3-point shots to put the Cougars ahead 29-9 at the end of the first quarter.
The Cougars built their lead to 40-11 in the second quarter before easing off the throttle and coasting to the final buzzer.
“If you win and you’re moving on, that’s the most important thing,” Haebe said. “We’ve won nine in a row now and we’ve risen to the challenge at every opportunity. We’re playing with some confidence and we’ve got a real nice chemistry on our team both offensively and defensively. I think my kids should feel good about their chances going into the TJ game.”
The game against Thomas Jefferson tips off at 2 p.m. Feb. 28 at Thomas Jefferson High School.