Michael Hadden poured in 39 points and the Scottsbluff Bearcats used a strong defensive effort in capturing the Western Conference Invitational Tournament 65-52 over Omaha Skutt Catholic on Saturday at Cougar Palace. It was the Bearcats' third straight Western Conference title.
Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske said it was a big accomplishment for the Omaha World-Herald's Class B No. 1 ranked Bearcats.
“This is very big to come out and win our third straight conference championship with the inexperience that we have. It should be a big confidence booster,” Siske said. “They should be a confident basketball team right now.”
A key to the Bearcats' win was free throw shooting and limiting the Skyhawks to just one charity toss in the final three periods. Scottsbluff finished the game converting 24 of 36 free throws. Hadden led the way by going 21 of 26.
Siske said Hadden had an incredible day from both the field and the line.
“He is an aggressive, crafty player,” Siske said of his senior guard. “We talked before the season that we thought that he could shoot 10 free throws a game with the way he plays. He shot more that tonight, obviously.”
But it wasn't just Hadden that won the game for the Bearcats, it was Scottsbluff's tenacity on defense, especially rebounding.
“Rebounding was the number one factor that we told our kids,” Siske noted. “We were outsized and they are pretty athletic, and we needed to rebound extremely well and we did a good job tonight.”
Things didn't look sharp for the Bearcats early as Omaha Skutt held a 13-12 lead after one period and pushed the lead to 17-14 in the second on a old-fashioned 3-point play by 6-foot-8 Skyhawk, Zach Legband. That was when the Bearcat defense stepped it up with Scottsbluff going on an 11-0 run to go up 23-17.
Hadden was the main thrust in the run, connecting on 7 of 7 free throws and nine points. Taylor Winkler had the other two points for the Bearcats. Scottsbluff held firm for the rest of the half and led 32-26 at the break.
Skutt made a run in the third period where, trailing 41-31, the Skyhawks scored the next seven points to cut the lead to 41-38. Scottsbluff answered with a 9-2 run to lead 51-40 after three periods. Skutt never could get within seven points in the final period.
Siske said that the second quarter was the difference in the game.
“The run in the second quarter was the difference,” he said. “I think once we took the lead we never gave it back up. We made a run, got the lead, and then played really good basketball. “
The Bearcats had just two players in double figures. Besides Hadden's 39, Eric Moreno finished with 11 points. Winkler and Tyler Mickey each chipped in six points apiece.
Omaha Skutt was led by 6-foot-4 senior Brian Schwetschenau with 20 points, while Chris Harrison and Luke Maass each had 11 points.
Scottsbluff (3-0) will be back in action this weekend when they compete in the Gillette, Wyo., tournament where they will play Gillette, Rock Springs and Casper Kelly Welsh.
Scottsbluff (3-0).............................12 20 21 14 – 65
Omaha Skutt (2-1)....................................13 13 14 12 – 52
Ty O'Brien 3, Chris Harrison 11, Luke Maass 11, Yasin Muhammed 1, Zach Pohlman 2, Brian Schwetschenau 20, Zach Legband 4.
Taylor Winkler 6, Jackson Hinze 1, Dillon Hernandez 2, Tyler Mickey 6, Eric Moreno 11, Michael Hadden 39.