The 10th-ranked Casper College men’s basketball team was dialed in last week.
In home victories over Gillette College and Western Wyoming Community College, the Thunderbirds (24-2, 9-1 Region IX North) topped 100 points in both games. It was the first time in a month the T-Birds had cracked the century mark in back-to-back games.
The T-Birds are no strangers to scoring in triple digits this season. After all, they average 103.5 points per game. But the way they went about getting there last week was out of the ordinary, at least for them.
Last Wednesday against Gillette, the T-Birds were 17-of-37 on 3-pointers, with five players making at least three in the 102-97 victory. Three days later, they were 16-of-28 from behind the arc in a 126-89 defeat of Western Wyoming.
Not bad for a team shooting 37.1 percent from deep in league play.
“I think our guards have done a better job of finding shooters,” head coach Dan Russell said. “Isaac (Bonton), Jalen (Harris) and (Amin Adamu) have been penetrating and kicking out to shooters. And to our guys’ credit, they’ve been stepping up and knocking them down.”
Six-foot-10 sophomore forward Wilfried Likayi and 6-3 sophomore guard Braxton Bertolette were two of the beneficiaries of the T-Birds’ drive, draw and kick attack. Likayi made 6-of-10 treys in totaling 45 points in the two games. Bertolette was also 6-of-10 from deep, helping him break out of a shooting slump.
“It’s all about being confident,” sophomore wing Broc Finstuen said. “Our guards can get to the rim at any time so they’re going to draw defenders to them and that allows us to just catch and shoot.
“I’ve never been on a team that had that ability. But we know this team can be special.”
The T-Birds’ hot shooting figures to be tested Wednesday when they welcome Eastern Wyoming College to Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym.
The Lancers (9-17, 3-7) are allowing just 76.7 points per game and have limited the T-Birds to an average of 72.5 points in their two previous meetings — 65-43 and 80-70 Casper College victories.
With four regular-season games remaining and a No. 10 national ranking, Russell knows the T-Birds will get every team’s best shot. And that starts Wednesday against Eastern Wyoming.
“They do a good job against us,” Russell said. “They slow it down and try to use all of the 30-second clock on offense and then they throw a lot of different looks at you defensively. They really try to minimize possessions.”
That was the case in their previous meeting two weeks ago in Torrington. The T-Birds led just 37-36 at the half and weren’t able to create any distance until the final 10 minutes.
Casper College was 9-of-22 on 3-pointers in the game, with Bonton hitting five on his way to a game-high 33 points and Likayi knocking down three.
Those two continue to lead the way offensively for the T-Birds. Bonton averages 20.0 points and leads the sub-region with 5.5 assists per game. Likayi averages 18.0 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per contest.
The T-Birds are far from a two-man show, however. Adamu (15.3), Finstuen (12.3) and Bertolette (11.1) also average double-digit points. And guards Harris and Keiron Goodwin and post players Zion Tordoff and James Hampshire also have shown the ability to reach double figures.
Whether or not the T-Birds can continue their hot shooting remains to be seen. Russell, however, likes their chances if they can maintain the focus they showed last week.
“College basketball is a grind,” he said. “In mid-February it can really start to wear on you. But if we can keeping getting the catch-and-shoot 3s we did last week I like our chances of shooting a high percentage.”