For two games this weekend, Lander hasn't looked like the team that entered the Wyoming State High School Class 3A Boys Basketball Championships with only four losses on the season.
Thursday in the quarterfinals against Newcastle the Tigers turned the ball over 26 times before pulling away for a 62-46 victory. In the semifinals Friday against Wheatland, a team Lander had defeated twice this season by a combined 34 points, the Tigers were tied going into the fourth quarter before winning 48-42.
"Style points don't matter at this time of year," second-year head coach Stu Mullins said. "We knew Wheatland wanted to play this game in the 40s and that's what happened.
"It was their style of game, but our defense rose to the occasion."
Lander held Wheatland without a fourth-quarter field goal until the Bulldogs scored two baskets in the final 30 seconds. By that time the Tigers had built a seven-point cushion and the green-clad fans at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym were starting to celebrate.
Fittingly, it was two seniors that provided the Tigers with the spark they needed in the fourth quarter.
Max Mazurie, who scored eight of his 11 points in the second half, hit a 3-pointer to give Lander a 41-37 lead and Antonio Coando was 4 of 4 from the free-throw line in the final minute. Coando finished with a game-high 13 points.
"We've been through a lot of adversity the last four years," Mazurie said. "But we've got a tough group of seniors and we stepped up tonight. I'm just so grateful to be here."
Lander is in the championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2008, which is also the last time it defeated Wheatland at state.
Waiting for the Tigers is a familiar foe in Powell. The two Northwest Conference foes played three times during the regular season and again last week in the West Regional championship game. Lander won all three, but the largest margin of victory was 10 points in last week's game. Powell, which was playing its first game without leading scorer and rebounder Carson Heinen, was within six points late but Lander held on.
The Panthers (12-12), who haven't had a three-game winning streak all season, will try to keep their dream weekend going as they look to end a 21-year title drought.
Powell took down Torrington 68-39 in the quarterfinals and shocked defending state champ Buffalo 66-64 in the semifinals.
"Powell is playing with a ton of confidence right now," Mullins said. "We're going to have our hands full Saturday."