The Casper College men’s basketball team that takes the floor Saturday against Western Wyoming Community College will bear little resemblance to the team that was riding a six-game winning streak three weeks ago.
Since then, the Thunderbirds (17-8, 5-4 Region IX North) have lost starting center Octavion Corley for the year to a head injury, sophomore guard Damian Wilson is no longer on the team and freshman forward Zion Tordoff has played limited minutes as he tries to play through a torn meniscus.
Those three combined to average 25.7 points per game and provided the T-Birds with some depth.
“We’ve got some guys who are having to play a ton of minutes,” Casper College head coach Dan Russell said, “but that’s not an excuse. We have to bring better effort.”
Since winning their first three sub-region games the T-Birds have dropped four of six, including a 71-62 loss to Miles Community College on Wednesday, in which they had 22 turnovers.
“Our guard play has to be better,” Russell said. “We have struggled with our decision-making at times and we’re not going to win too many games with 22 turnovers.
“But our guys are still out here competing, so I give them credit for that. We’ve responded well in practice this week, so we’ll see if that carries over into Saturday.”
While winning the sub-region is no longer on the table, Casper College still is in position to host a Region IX tournament game if it finishes in the top four. Currently, the T-Birds are tied with WWCC (12-11, 5-4) for the fourth spot one game back of Central Wyoming College.
“This is a big game for us,” Russell said. “Western is in a similar situation, so we’ve just got to figure out a way to turn things around.”
The T-Birds won 69-66 at Western back on Jan. 17 behind 16 points from sophomore point guard Chase Winchester and 10 from sophomore big man Antun Maricevic.
Maricevic has been playing with a banged-up knee, but still leads the team in scoring with 15.3 points per game. Freshman guard Nolan Bertain (13.5), Winchester (13.0) and freshman forward Wilfried Likayi (10.0) are also averaging double-digit points.
The key for the T-Birds down the stretch — they play four of their final five regular season games at home — is getting some contributions off the bench.
“This is a tough stretch for us,” Russell said, “but we’ve got to adopt a next-man-up mentality.”