MONUMENT — For nearly a week, Air Academy basketball coach Barry Clark has been praising the ability of Palmer Ridge forward Matt Cameron.
Clark knew that to beat the Bears, he would have to take away Cameron's offense. But he didn't anticipate taking away all of the No. 9 Bears' offense in the 63-37 win for the No. 8 Kadets Wednesday night.
"We rotate really well," Clark said of his defense. "When we're on, that's the game we want to play. (Palmer Ridge) didn't have the ball handlers, they have the two big guys inside and that makes us completely opposite teams."
The Kadets (8-3 overall, 2-1 4A Pikes Peak) bolted out to an early 10-0 lead, with James Sims accounting for six of those points. But it was the pressure of the 1-2-1-1 full court press that had Palmer Ridge coach Nick Mayer and his players completely baffled. The Bears (7-2, 1-2) were finally able to muster some offense, finishing the quarter on a 6-0 run.
They appeared to have things figured out offensively at the start of the second as Matt Cameron scored five quick points. But the Kadets once again turned up the pressure. They went into halftime with a 31-15 lead.
"They're well coached," Mayer said. "They play unselfishly and they deflect everything which gave us a lot of problems.
Even with a chance to make some much needed adjustments to try and figure out the Kadets' press, Mayer's squad couldn't find any offensive rhythm. Cameron, who averages over 21 points per game, was held to only 17 on the night, with all but five of them coming in the second half.
"I was pleasantly surprised that we held that team to under 10 points a quarter," Clark said. "I was surprised that we did that and that the press worked that well. It took them forever to get the ball across."
Things did start to get physical between the two teams in the third quarter. Eli Burkett picked up the first of his team's two flagrant fouls with 5:16 left in the third quarter. David Louthan sank the two free throws to give Air Academy a 35-17 lead, all but assuring the win.
Sims led his team in scoring with 16 points and admitted that the defensive statement the Kadets made is crucial at this point in the season.
"We thought that if we could get the steals and the quick transition points, it would help us," he said. "Against Sand Creek, they were very composed and they were able to beat our press. Our pressure tonight forced a lot of turnovers and made them make more mistakes."
If there was one glaring criticism that Clark had of his team in their previous two games it would be his players' reliance on the three-pointer. Prior to the game, he said his team averages about 10 three-point shots a game, but put up 24 in their loss against Sand Creek.
With the Kadets forcing so many turnovers and getting more baskets in transition, their dependence on the threes severely decreased which was a pleasant sight to the coach.
"I've been eagerly anticipating (less threes)," Clark said. "We need to shoot good, high quality threes. It seems the less we shoot, the better we are."
Air Academy only connected on three shots behind the arc. Clark hopes to see similar numbers Friday, when the Kadets host Vista Ridge.