LITTLETON — Columbine High School’s gym was full of intensity and energy Friday night with the Rebels hosting cross-town rival Dakota Ridge.
While it technically wasn’t a Class 5A Jeffco League game, there was clearly pressure on Columbine to protect its home court and send a message with conference play a week away from starting.
“Rivalry games are the best,” Columbine junior Luke O’Brien said after scoring a game-high 23 points in the Rebels’ 74-59 victory. “Our fan base was really great tonight. This was one of the games we really wanted to win.”
The conference game between Columbine and Dakota Ridge will be Feb. 8 on the Eagles’ home court. The Rebels shared the league title last season with Arvada West and split their two league meetings last season with Dakota Ridge.
The format has changed with the nine 5A Jeffco teams just having eight conference games instead of the 14-game league schedule last year.
“I think it is wide-open. I really do,” Columbine coach Clay Thielking said of 5A Jeffco. “I’d like to think we are one of the teams in the conversation. Our focus right now is to get healthy and be hitting our stride next week.”
Senior Cameron Dean hit is stride from 3-point range Friday night. Dean buried a season-high four 3-pointers to help the Rebels extend their lead to double-digit points on Dakota Ridge (5-9 record) in the second half.
“It was just putting my practice into play. It was a real big confident booster for me tonight,” said Dean, who finished with his season-high 17 points. “I know I’m a good shooter, but to actually hit them in games is really nice.”
Columbine (8-5) outscoring Dakota Ridge 23-15 in the third quarter was key for the Rebels to get a big enough cushion to hold off the Eagles. Dakota Ridge was led by seniors Ian Good (13 points) and Jackson Lamb (12 points).
The Eagles poured in 20 points in the fourth quarter in an attempt to keep things interesting, but Columbine made 16-of-20 free throws in the final quarter to hold off Dakota Ridge.
“We had problems getting stops (defensively) in that fourth quarter and Dakota Ridge just wouldn’t go away,” Thielking said. “We had our hands full tonight.”
Senior Cody Ramming was a big factor off the bench for the Rebels. Ramming finished with 10 points and dominated the boards when he was on the court.
The win improved Columbine to a 3-2 record since the end of winter break.
“We are getting to that peak. There are nine football guys so it’s tough to get into a rhythm,” O’Brien said. “Once we hit league we should be going.”
The Rebels have one more non-league game at Castle View (9-2) on Monday, Jan. 14, before heading into Class 5A Jeffco League play. Columbine opens conference play at home against Valor Christian on Saturday, Jan. 19.
“We should make a run,” O’Brien said of the Rebels ready to begin league play. “I feel like we have the best team in the league and I believe we are going to show that.”
Valor (3-10) is making the jump up from playing in the 4A Jeffco League for several years to 5A Jeffco this season.
Dakota Ridge hosts Arvada West (8-3) in a non-league game Wednesday, Jan. 16, in what will be a non-league game. The Eagles and first-year head coach Sean Kovar kickoff their conference schedule at Lakewood on Saturday, Jan. 19.
“League play is a different animal,” Thielking said. “You are so well scouted and you get everyone’s best shot. I think it’s going to be pretty wild. We do have the pieces you need to win a league title over the eight games. We are just working toward being more consistent.”