Balanced Bearcats ready to face challenges at state tournament
     2014-03-13      By Terry Gaston    sports@geringcitizen.com
Photos by Sheila Weber/Sheila Weber Photography 
In its previous three appearances in the Class B Boys’ State Basketball Tournament, Scottsbluff has taken a variety of lineup styles to Lincoln.

After winning the 2012 state championship with a primarily inside-based and experienced starting five, the Bearcats returned to the final game last year with a smaller, shooting-based offensive attack that fell just short in repeating.

When the Bearcats take to the Bob Devaney Sports Center court Thursday night for first-round state tournament action against No. 4 seed Omaha Skutt Catholic, fifth-seeded Scottsbluff (16-9) will have no senior starters, and just one senior in Beau Lofink who comes off the bench, but a solid mix of inside and outside play.

The game will tip off at 7:45 p.m. Mountain Time.

“The kids are excited to get down there,” said seventh-year Scottsbluff coach Tony Siske, who has the Bearcats at state for the fourth straight year and for the fifth time in six seasons.

“I know that they’re anxious, and it’s tough to practice when you’re looking forward to it. But they’re hanging in there and doing all right.”

The Bearcats, after downing top-seeded Gering 67-53 in the District B-6 championship game on March 4, took a day off before having a shoot-around Thursday and returned to full-strength practices Friday, which continued through Tuesday before Scottsbluff left for Lincoln on Wednesday.

“We usually take a day or two off after the district final,” Siske said. “It gives the kids time to recharge and gives the coaches time to start looking at film, and then we go back to work.”

Junior guard Trent Harris, a varsity reserve the past two years, leads the Bearcats in scoring with 405 points (16.2 per game) with 150 total field goals for 44.5 percent, and he is second in free throws and percentage (62 of 80, 77.5 percent) and rebounds (129, 5.6 average).

Freshman guard Dru Kuxhausen leads Scottsbluff in 3-point shooting with 62 of 133 treys made (46.6 percent) and in free throws with a whopping 92.6 percent (63 of 68). Kuxhausen averages a second-best 11.7 points for Scottsbluff, primarily as the Bearcats’ sixth man.

Sophomore post Austin Clarkson is a dual threat, hitting 13 3-pointers (38.2 percent) while making 52.1 percent of all his shots (95-for-182) in averaging 9.2 points per game. Clarkson also has a team-high 194 rebounds (7.8 average), and he gets help inside from freshman Landon Walker, who is averaging 8.54 points and 3.9 rebounds.

Junior point guard Jackson Hinze has team-highs of 70 assists and 33 steals while averaging 6.8 points per game, and sophomore Dillon Hernandez is averaging 7.2 points and has hit 27 of 30 free throws (90 percent).

Junior Matthew Mickey has 3.0 points per game, and Lofink – in just 11 games after a preseason foot injury – has added 2.7 points down the stretch.

“Defensively, we’re still working to get better,” Siske said, whose team has outscored its opposition by an average score of 65.9 to 57.9. “I think we’re a really balanced scoring team. We can go inside, outside, have some guys who can penetrate as well.”

Siske credits his team’s stamina against some larger schools’ teams in preparing the Bearcats for their postseason experience – thus far and that forthcoming. Scottsbluff also played in four three-day tournaments, with much of that competition coming in those quick turnaround tourneys.

“I think the biggest thing is we have taken our lumps. We’ve played those bigger schools that play a little different pace and are a little more physical. Even by the time state rolls around, we’ve already played the best teams we are going to see.”

Skutt (19-6) was the District B-2 runner-up to No. 1 state seed Elkhorn South (24-0), with the Skyhawks falling in the district final.

“They don’t run a whole lot of different stuff on offense,” Siske said of the Skyhawks. “They have their players spread you out and let their players make plays. It’s nothing too fancy.”

The other Class B first-round game in Scottsbluff and Skutt’s side of the bracket has Elkhorn South against No. 8 Grand Island Northwest (11-16), winner of a District B-5 that had all five teams with sub-.500 records. The Elkhorn South-Northwest game will be Thursday at the Devaney Center at 6 p.m.

“It’s a tough field,” Siske said. “If we’re fortunate to get past Skutt, we’ll more than likely play the heavy favorite in Elkhorn South, if they get by Grand Island Northwest.”

In the other side of the bracket, which will be played at Pinnacle Bank Arena, and No. 3 seed York will face No. 6 Lincoln Pius X (15-7) at 8 a.m. and No. 2 seed Beatrice (20-2) will face No. 7 Omaha Roncalli Catholic (14-11) at 9:45 a.m.

“And then on the other side, you have York and Beatrice, as well as Roncalli which is a dangerous team, and then Pius X,” Siske said of the Class B bracket’s overall toughness.

The Scottsbluff-Skutt and Elkhorn South-Northwest winners will play Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena at 2:45 p.m., with the other semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday’s semifinal losers will play for third place at 9 a.m. at Lincoln North Southeast High School, with the championship game at noon at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

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