The Casper College men’s basketball team saw firsthand what it takes to win a championship Saturday. A number of Thunderbirds were at the Casper Events Center to cheer on the Wyoming Indian Chiefs as they rallied to defeat Pine Bluffs in double overtime to win the Class 2A state title. The T-Birds even sported Chiefs jerseys and posed for photos afterward with the state champions.
Now it’s the T-Birds’ turn to win a title.
No. 6 Casper College will be looking for its first Region IX championship since the 1995-96 season. Not coincidentally, Wyoming Indian coach Craig Ferris played on that team, which advanced to the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I Championships.
“We could see how much it meant to them and it was really motivating to see them celebrate,” Casper College sophomore Zion Tordoff said of the Chiefs.
The T-Birds, who at 29-2 have won more games than any team since the 1995-96 squad finished 30-6, will look to keep their season going this weekend at the Region IX tournament at Sheridan College. Casper College, which tied Sheridan for the North sub-region title but lost a tiebreaker to the Generals, faces Trinidad State Junior College on Thursday in the quarterfinals.
“They’re a lot like Gillette (College) in that they’re small and they’re scrappy,” Casper College head coach Dan Russell said. “They’ll try to speed us up a little bit, which will be interesting because we haven’t seen that a whole lot this year outside of Sheridan.”
And for good reason. The T-Birds are averaging 102.4 points per game and have topped the century mark 19 times, most recently in a 105-70 victory over Gillette College in the first round of the tournament on Saturday.
Four players are averaging double-digit points for the T-Birds. Sophomore point guard Isaac Bonton leads the way at 20.0 points per game, followed by sophomore forward Wilfried Likayi (17.3), sophomore guard Amin Adamu (15.0) and sophomore wing Broc Finstuen (13.3). Casper College also has gotten plenty of production from its reserves as freshman Jalen Harris and sophomores Tordoff, Braxton Bertolette, Keiron Goodwin and James Hampshire are averaging a combined 36.3 points per game.
“We’re in a pretty good place right now,” said Russell, who is 142-51 in his sixth year on the bench. “Whatever game plan we come up with defensively, we just have to execute it, and offensively we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“No matter what they try to do to us defensively, whether it’s zone or man or trap, our guards have seen everything and our bigs are mentally tough enough to handle any situations.”
At No. 6 in the country, the T-Birds would appear to be in good shape to earn an at-large berth to the NJCAA Championships even if they don’t win the Region IX tournament. But with all the team has accomplished already this season, the players all have one goal in mind.
“We’re ready and we’re excited for this,” Bonton said. “I feel like we can adjust to any style; that’s one of the special things about this team. We’ve put in a lot of work since the preseason, and we have bonded together on and off the court.
“If we go 1-0 every game for the rest of the season then we’ll win the championship, and that’s our goal.”
Added Tordoff: “This is what we live for. This year we’ve been a lot more together off the court than we were last year, and I think that has helped a lot on the court.”