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Lakewood boys hoops gets defensive on opening night

Lakewood junior Michael Bennett, right, drives on Wheat Ridge senior Alex Morales during the first quarter Monday night at Wheat Ridge High School. The Tigers took a 65-51 road victory on opening night of the prep basketball season in Colorado. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

WHEAT RIDGE — The prep basketball season officially tipped off Monday night and one of the oldest rivalries in the state went head-to-head at “The Barn” at Wheat Ridge High School.

“Lakewood and Wheat Ridge, it doesn’t get any better than this on opening night,” Lakewood coach Daryl Johnson said after his Tigers scored a 65-51 road victory against the Farmers.

Lakewood junior Jason Duong (2) attempt to fire a pass past Wheat Ridge junior Kale Kissell (12) on Monday night. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Wheat Ridge, defending Class 4A Jeffco League champs, jumped out to an early 7-2 lead. However, Lakewood went on a 12-0 run to start the second and third quarters to open up a double-digit lead that it held throughout the second half.

The Tigers’ defensive effort held the Farmers to just 16 field goals on the night. Wheat Ridge scored just 29 points through three quarters.

“It’s a total change in heart and belief in everything I’ve done and everything I’m doing,” Johnson said talking about the Tigers’ commitment to defense. “It’s a total change in attitude with this defensive deal. We want to be the best defensive team we can ever be. They don’t care about anything else.”

Offensively, Lakewood was balanced with nine players scoring. Juniors Michael Bennett (18 points) and Addie Reddinger (14 points) led the way for the Tigers.

“It feels great,” Bennett said. “Last year it was a tight one against Wheat Ridge and we couldn’t pull it out.”

The Farmers took an overtime victory on the Tigers’ home court last year. Lakewood made sure to get a measure of revenge Monday night.

“We were pumped up in the locker room. Everyone was feeling really good,” Bennett said. “We were motivated and determined. We really felt like we could win this one. We executed and played good defense.”

Wheat Ridge junior Wes Miller, left, drives on Lakewood junior Addie Reddinger during the second half Monday night. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)

Lakewood is looking to improve on its 6-17 record last year that included a seventh-place finish in the 5A Jeffco conference. Again, Johnson knows success will be spearheaded by the Tigers’ defense.

“We just want to be the best defensive team in our league,” Johnson said looking forward to 5A Jeffco play. “If that is the case we’ll take whatever comes with it.”

Wheat Ridge is coming off its first conference title since 2007. The Farmers did graduate a handful of seniors, but do return starters Dominic Bronk and Alex Morales. Bronk and Morales both struggled from the field, not making a shot from the field in the second half.

“Dom Bronk has been our guy. This is his fourth year as a starter,” Wheat Ridge coach Tommy Dowd said. “He didn’t shoot too well. He hit a couple of 3-pointers early and then it went dry. You are going to see that early in the year.”

Dowd did like the energy his team played with despite the loss.

“We played hard enough, but we couldn’t shoot. We missed so many easy shoots that guys normally make,” Dowd said. “Then they got a little tight when they started missing. Some of that is experience.”

A bright spot for the Farmers was the play in the second half from juniors Dominic Cross (16 points) and Greyson Van Tuyl (15 points). Bronk finished with 14 points.

“Give it up to Lakewood,” Dowd said. “They played smarter and took care of the ball.”

Wheat Ridge gets right back into action with a road game against Denver West at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 3. The Farmers have six non-league games before Winter Break. Wheat Ridge begins its conference title defense against Green Mountain on Jan. 8.

“Maybe when you get into league you can start to talk about that,” Dowd said about the Farmers defending their conference title in 4A Jeffco. “Right now you are just trying to find some rotations and who can play. It’s been tough. We haven’t had a lot practice yet. You just have to have some patience.”

Lakewood junior Tommy Landmark (10) goes up for a layup during the Tigers' victory over Wheat Ridge on Monday night. (Dennis Pleuss/Jeffco Athletics)