The Western Nebraska Community College men’s basketball team have put together a 23-7 season and they hope to add a Region IX title when the Region IX tournament in LaJunta, Colorado, begins Thursday.
The Cougars, who haven’t had a Region IX championship trophy hanging on the wall since 2001, will open up play against Central Wyoming College at 1 p.m.
Trent Harris, sophomore shooting guard from Scottsbluff, said the team is ready to go.
“We are ready for Central but we are ready for any team that we play,” Harris, who is averaging 13.8 points a game, said. “If we play our game the way we know how we can beat any team in the region.”
WNCC played some of its best ball in the first-round win on Saturday against McCook, blowing out the Indians 116-61. Harris said that is the way they should be always playing.
“We played great on Saturday and that is how we are supposed to play,” he said. “I think we can do that this weekend.”
The key, though, is not to take any team lightly. WNCC and Central Wyoming have played twice this season with the Cougars winning 87-82 and 103-85.
That doesn’t mean anything this weekend. Harris said they have to be ready.
“What I know about Central Wyoming is that we can’t take them or any other team lightly,” Harris said.
Central Wyoming enters with a 20-11 record and have won 10 of their last 12 games. The Rustlers have been playing their best ball during the second semester, including topping Gillette College 91-74 as well as Casper 100-78. Central Wyoming dropped a 74-73 to No. 16 Sheridan College.
WNCC is starting to find their game once again, having won their last three. WNCC won 12 straight early in the season. Since then, WNCC has dropped five of 14 of games but after Saturday’s win, the Cougars are a dangerous team at the regional tournament.
“We have a lot of people that can score the ball,” Harris said. “That is why we put up so many points per game.”
Scoring is not a problem for the Cougars this season. WNCC is the sixth highest-scoring team in the nation, scoring at rate of 97 points a game. Miami Dade leads the nation at 108.2 points and Region IX’s Gillette College is fifth at 99.4 points.
A big reason for the high scoring is the team’s 3-point shooting. The Cougars lead the nation in made 3-pointers, having made 406 treys. The Cougars are third in the nation in 3-point shooting at 44.8 percent.
WNCC’s 3-point shooting comes from a variety of players, too. Seven players have made 30 or more 3-pointers this season. Vinnie Shahid and Trent Harris leads the charge with 87 and 86 3-pointers respectively. Djordje Dimitrijevic had buried 53 treys while Martin Roub has netted 52.
Right behind is Marko Rajanovic with 35, Jervay Green with 32, and Marlon Sierra with 30.
While scoring isn’t an issue, the key for the Cougars’ success lies with the defense. Defending will be a key component if the Cougars are to bring home a regional title.
“If we defend the way we know how, then we can hold teams to bad shooting percentages,” Harris said.
The key is to put everything together and play as a collective unit. Something they did in the first-round win against McCook.
For Harris and the other sophomores, it would mean everything to bring a Region IX trophy back to Cougar Palace.
“Winning a regional title would mean everything to this community because they come out to support us every night,” he said. “We really do have the best fans in the region.”
If WNCC wins Thursday, they will face the winner of the Sheridan and Lamar game Friday at 5 p.m. The other side of the bracket has Gillette College facing Trinidad State at 5 p.m. Thursday and Otero meeting Casper at 7 p.m. The winners of those two will face each other in the semifinals at7 p.m. Friday.
The championship is slated for Saturday at 7 p.m. with the winner qualifying for the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas, March 19-24.
Men’s Region IX Tourney @ LaJunta, Colorado
1 p.m. – WNCC vs. Central Wyoming
3 p.m. – Sheridan vs. Lamar
5 p.m. – Gillette vs. Trinidad State
7 p.m. – Otero vs. Casper
5 p.m. – WNCC/C. Wyoming vs. Sheridan/Lamar
7 p.m. – Gillette/Trinidad vs. Otero/Casper
7 p.m. – Semifinals winners