ARVADA — It’s definitely early on in conference action in the boys basketball Class 5A Jeffco League.
However, Dakota Ridge took a significant step forward Friday night in staking claim as the favorite to win the league championship come late February. Undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the latest’s CHSAANow.com poll, Dakota Ridge (11-0, 2-0 5A Jeffco) stayed perfect with a 67-62 road victory against Arvada West (7-4, 1-1).
“I guess it’s pretty big, but we just try to take it one game at a time,” Dakota Ridge junior Devante Jones said. “It is just one game, but it’s big.”
Jones led the way offensively with a game-high 19 points. Jones and senior Alden Erickson combined for 19 points in the opening quarter as the Eagles bolted out to a 23-5 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of getting some quick reversals around the perimeter which turned into some post touches,” Dakota Ridge coach Curi Yutzy said. “You have to give credit to Devante and Alden for making great moves in the post and finishing.”
Erickson finished with 14 points. Seniors Tanner Lukens (11 points) and Cody Pittman (10 points) also ended in double-figures for Dakota Ridge.
The Eagles’ biggest lead, 29-7, came early in the second quarter. Dakota Ridge missed just five field goals in the first half.
“You can’t dig that hole against a good team. Dakota Ridge shot it so darn well in the first half,” A-West coach Jeff Parriott said. “They were really efficient on offense. I didn’t think we were very assertive defensively.”
Yutzy actually sat Jones the entire second quarter after the 6-foot-4 forward picked up his second foul. Yutzy had that luxury with his deep bench, along with the big lead.
“It was pretty frustrating, but the team stepped up and made big plays,” Jones said of being a spectator until after halftime. “They hit big shots in the second (quarter).”
Lukens buried three 3-pointers in the second quarter for Dakota Ridge. His 3-pointer just before the buzzer gave the Eagles a 42-23 lead at halftime.
Despite the lead, Yutzy was wary of A-West’s offensive ability to mount a comeback.
“To be honest, we knew if there is one team in the state that is capable of doing that they are,” Yutzy said of A-West’s rally that eventually cut Dakota Ridge’s lead to 62-60 with a minute to play in the fourth quarter. “Give all the credit to A-West. They hit a lot of big shots, especially in the second half. That’s a tough team to guard.”
Seniors Thomas Neff (20 points) and Jesse Porter (18 points) led the second-half rally by the Wildcats. A-West poured in nine 3-pointers to help chip away at the deficit.
It looked like Neff would get the opportunity to tie the game when he stole the ball and drove to the basket with 45 second left. A whistle was blown as Neff missed the layup, but the referee called a foul on A-West behind the play.
Instead of the Wildcats with the opportunity to tie the game, the Eagles got two free throws on the other end to extend their lead to 64-60. Parriott didn’t make a huge deal about the call.
“That wasn’t the deciding factor,” Parriott said. “If you aren’t down 22 points that call doesn’t make a bit of difference.”
Pittman went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final minute to seal the victory. While the win kept the Eagles undefeated and atop the conference standing, Yutzy said the team’s focus is still simple.
“We have a vision of getting better every day,” Yutzy said. “We will live with the results as long as we are getting better every day.”
Dakota Ridge stays on the road for its next game. The Eagles face rival Columbine at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 14, in the Rebels’ home gym.
A-West also faces a rival next Wednesday. The Wildcats host Pomona in a 7 p.m. tipoff for their next conference game.
“I’m really proud of our guys the way they battled back to give ourselves a chance,” Parriott said. “I think we have learned a lot about ourselves that will make us a better team.”