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Niwot picks up two wins at the Rough Rider Shootout

Series: Niwot boys basketball | Story 4

January 8, 2020 | View PDF

Jocelyn Rowley

Senior Austin Rathburn with a block against Denver West on Jan. 3.

The Niwot boys basketball team rang in 2020 by going 2-1 at the annual Rough Rider Shootout at Roosevelt, held Jan. 2-4. But sloppy play on both offense and defense over the three-game stretch has Cougar head coach Clay Wittrock making some new resolutions for his team.

"We need to find how we're going to be a team that, for four quarters, battles regardless of whether things are going well or bad, and plays for each other," he said. "We really need to find that consistency, so every game, regardless of what's happening offensively, we know what we're going to bring defensively."

Niwot kicked off the tournament on Jan. 2 with a solid 54-39 win over Skyview (0-9) that saw seniors Cooper Sheldon (16) and Milo Ostwald (11) combine for 27 points.

Things started going a bit sideways for the Cougars on Friday against Denver West, a team the Cougars beat by nearly 40 points at Roosevelt the year before. Led by Sheldon's nine points, Niwot controlled the first half of play and went into the break with a 24-21 lead.

A clearly improved Cowboys squad kept pace with the Cougars in the third quarter by keeping them off-balance defensively. A last second shot by sophomore Dov Muduktore gave Niwot a slim 40-37 lead heading into the final quarter, which grew to six by the mid-point. However, Denver West did not go away quietly, and the game was tied 50-50 in the closing seconds. Luckily for the Cougars, Ostwald found himself in the right place at the right time after a shot by Kyle Reeves bounced off the rim and Niwot went on to win 52-50.

"It was kind of a scramble," Ostwald said of his winning score. "I was hustling to get the rebound and it came to me, so I just drove and shot the ball. It was nothing special-just an open shot."

Ostwald ended the game with 10 points, a block, and a deflection. He said afterwards that the Cowboys had been able to exploit some of his team's lingering weaknesses.

"Our defense wasn't there as much as we usually have it. They went in zone, which is kind of our kryptonite right now. We need to figure out how to overcome that....We struggled, but we ended up executing just enough when we needed to."

Unfortunately, those defensive struggles continued for Niwot the next day against Steamboat Springs (4-7), especially in the first quarter. The hot-shooting Sailors repeatedly found the open corner, and went on a 15-0 run powered exclusively by three-pointers.

"I knew they were going to come out and be good shooters," Sheldon said. "They did a good job setting up off-ball screens and finding the open man."

Niwot was able to contain that surge in the second quarter, but some newfound offensive struggles kept the Cougars from making a dent in Steamboat's lead, and they went into the break down 28-13. Niwot perked up in the second half, but its shooting woes continued, and the Cougars went on to lose 51-40.

"If you look at just the numbers, we figured out how to compete better in the second half and showed them that we could handle it," Wittrock said. "But they were big enough and deep enough that digging that hole really hurt us."

Overall, the Cougars went 13-for-50 (26 percent) from the floor, their lowest by far of the season, which Wittrock chalked up to some questionable shot selections early on.

"Some of the shots we took in the first half, we were trying to force harder shots, and when those aren't going, they have to learn how to look for the easiest shot....Unfortunately, it took us deep into the second quarter to find that."

The Sailors' tall forwards also managed to neutralize senior Austin Rathburn, who has been a reliable presence in the post for Niwot so far this season, with 8.6 points per game. Against Steamboat, he was held to just two points on four shots.

Jocelyn Rowley

Cooper Sheldon

"It's hard to get into a rhythm against those true bigs, because you're working so hard on defense," Wittrock said. "When you're battling a true big, even as strong as Austin is, it's a lot of work and it wears you out on both ends of the floor."

Niwot moved to 5-4 on the year as non-conference play wrapped up. The Cougars started their Northern League schedule on Jan. 7, and Wittrock is looking forward to getting the team back into a routine, especially on defense.

"We started the tournament guarding as we should, but for whatever reason, we didn't look like us defensively at all in the Denver West game and the first half of this game. Going into league where you see everyone twice, it's going to be key to getting back to what we know is our number one strength."


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