LITTLETON — It didn’t take long to realize the Class 5A Jeffco League boys basketball title was clearly up for grabs this season.
Two-time defending 5A Jeffco champ Chatfield had its 30-game conference winning streak snapped by Pomona during the first night of league games Jan. 4.
“I’m not surprised with anything,” Dakota Ridge coach Curi Yutzy said Wednesday night after a 69-65 home loss to Bear Creek. “In any Jeffco game I think the team that plays better for those 32 minutes is going to come away with the win.”
Bear Creek (7-3 record, 3-0 in 5A Jeffco) trailed 38-26 early in the second half when Dakota Ridge junior Alex Overlie nailed a 3-pointer to open the scoring in the third quarter. However, the Bears turned things around in a hurry pouring in 23 points in the final six minutes of the third quarter to grab a 49-47 lead heading to the final quarter.
Seniors Manuel Perez (27 points) and Jovan Dodig (13 points) led the way for the Bears in their seventh victory in eight games.
“We’ve talked about learning from our experiences. After loses to Douglas County and Liberty we talked about how to bring that to the next game,” Bear Creek coach Will Gosch said. “At halftime we talked about limiting our mistakes and valuing every position.”
Bear Creek lost in overtime to Liberty and blew a double-digit lead to Douglas County before winter break. Clearly the Bears have learned to make adjustments on the fly.
Dodig was aggressive taking the ball to the basket after halftime after scoring just 2 points in the first half. Perez caught fire from outside knocking down four 3-pointers on his way to a team-high 27 points.
“Just moving the ball around,” Perez said of the key as the Bears put up 43 points in the second half. “Jovan getting to the basket and finding open people. I think that opened up a lot of opportunities and we took them.”
Junior Jayden Martinez actually made maybe the most important shot of the night. Martinez sank his lone field goal of the game with a 3-pointer in the corner in front of the Bears’ bench with 3:23 left in the fourth quarter. The basket put Bear Creek up 59-52.
“That kid (Martinez) has no fear. We trust him in that situation,” Gosch said of Martinez’s 3-pointer that gave Bear Creek its biggest lead of the game. “As soon as I saw him wide-open I was hoping he would shoot. I’m glad he did.”
Bear Creek went 8-for-13 from the free-throw line in the final quarter to seal the victory and remain the lone undefeated team in 5A Jeffco play through the first three conference games.
A sign that a number of teams can get into the mix for the title in the 8-team league was the fact that Bear Creek was only undefeated team in conference play entering Game 3 on the league docket for all 5A Jeffco teams Wednesday night. The Bears have been at or near the bottom of the league for a number of years.
“As long as we take one game at a time. I think the big thing in high school is how you handle prosperity,” said Gosch of the Bears that haven’t had more than four league wins in a season since going 7-7 in conference during the 2008-09 season. “We need to stay hungry and not anoint ourselves, I think good things will happen for us.”
Senior Cole Binder actually scored a game-high 28 points thanks to eight 3-pointers for Dakota Ridge (6-5, 1-2), but it wasn’t enough as the Eagles dropped their second straight league game.
“I think we played really hesitant in the second half,” Yutzy admitted. “I think we turned into a very passive team against a very aggressive team. That normally doesn’t end well.”
Dakota Ridge is on the road Friday at Pomona before getting a shot against No. 1 ranked and undefeated Rock Canyon on the Jaguars’ home court in a non-conference game at 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
Bear Creek is also back on the court this weekend. The Bears host Columbine at 1 p.m. Saturday.