Bulldogs bring disciplined offense into the state tournament
Cochran: Wheatland High School Varsity coach Mick Cochran has been coaching the Bulldogs for 19 years and this year he took his team to the state tournament as he has done many times before. This team started slow but changed offenses and fine-tuned their defense, making them a contender not only in their conference but at the regional and state levels. Stenson: Bryce Stenson brings the ball up the court in Casper at the Ford Wyoming Center for their first game of the 2023 Wyoming High School 3A Boys Basketball State Championship. The Bulldogs played Lyman in their first game, a team which finished second overall in the tournament.
CASPER – The Wheatland High School Bulldogs had a record of 3-5 before the Christmas break and then came thundering out of the holiday break losing eight of their next nine games. They then lost three of five and it was the middle of February.
To quote former NFL coach Jim Mora, “Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs. You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”
That rant might have crossed the minds of coach Mick Cochran and several other members of the WHS fanbase. Then something changed. A team that was theocratic in nature the year before with 3A Player of the Year, Kade Preuit could not find a rhythm. They had to become democratic in their approach.
The coaching staff spent many long hours evaluating, reevaluating and going through many hours of trial and error. After a 60-19 drubbing by the Douglas Bearcats on Feb. 11, Cochran and his staff began working on a slowdown offense which was a modernized version of Dean Smith’s North Carolina four-corner offense meant to deliberately look to take time off the clock. Scoring wasn’t the primary goal. Survival without embarrassment was.
Cochran said that in every practice after the Douglas game and all the way to the tournaments, they worked 15 minutes each day on controlling the tempo with this new slowdown offense. It was not to be mistaken for a slow-motion offense, but the speed and discipline of controlling the passing, creating crisp quick cuts, moving to the ball rather than long crosscourt passes.
It worked rather well in the last regular season game against Douglas, frustrating the Bearcats and playing the part of a pesky little brother that was playing keep-away. Douglas did win that game, but by only 11 points, and the Bearcats only put 32 points on the board.
They qualified to go to the state tournament and in their first game last Thursday they would draw a very tall Lyman team, who would eventually come up short in the championship game against Worland, losing 37-35 using a type of the offense that Wheatland came at them with.
Wheatland came out in their renewed offense and as long as the turnovers were held to a minimum, they would not only remain in the game with Lyman but may even prevail. The Bulldogs were becoming more confident in their approach and at the end of the first quarter the teams were deadlocked 5-5. In the second quarter the Eagles came out trying to rush the Bulldogs, to no avail, and even though they shut them out in the second quarter, they only could muster two points as their rush to create a big lead and to run the Bulldogs off the court didn’t work. The halftime score was 7-5 in favor of Lyman.
Turnovers caught up with the Bulldogs in the third quarter as Lyman came hard with a full-court press. The Eagles gained their biggest advantage of the game outscoring the Dogs by six. It was still within reach for Wheatland at 16-8.
The fourth quarter brought frustration and a need to commit fouls. Lyman regained their poise, outscored the Bulldogs 16-9 and won by a score of 32-17. Lyman which is a team that averages well over 50 points a game gave up their average and were content with the victory.
For the game, JP Anderson and Jacob Hyche had four points each, while Hyche had three rebounds. Aric Suko had four points and two rebounds, and Bryce Stenson had three points and one rebound. Cole Goertz ended up with two points. The Bulldogs tied Lyman in rebounds with 17, had four more turnovers and shot 25% from the field to Lyman’s 46%. The Bulldogs put up 24 shots to Lyman’s 26 shots.
The Bulldogs would then have the chance to go against a team that they had beaten very early in the season at the Douglas Tournament. They defeated the Lovell Bulldogs 55-54, but Friday would be a different story. Not by much though.
Again, Wheatland played a very deliberate game and outplayed Lovell in many aspects of the game. Wheatland outrebounded them 30-23, they had the same amount of turnovers, they ended up with a better shooting percentage, 28% to 26%. That left the differences in the game with Lovell shooting almost 70% at the free throw line to Wheatland’s 20%, and of course, the final score with Lovell winning by a slim margin of 27-21. A much different score than when the two teams played back in December.
Lovell gained a slim five-point lead at the end of the third quarter and fought to hold off a charging Wheatland team. For the game, Anderson was the leading scorer with 11 points, and he pulled down six rebounds. Suko ended up with seven points and four rebounds followed by Hyche with two points and six rebounds. Stenson managed one point and had four rebounds. Although Lee Raser didn’t score, he came up with five rebounds for the Bulldogs.
“Today we played defense again at a high level,” Cochran said. “We had a few breakdowns, but we really felt like the free throw line was the difference in the game. Two for 10 won’t work. It was a season of growth for many of our players. We enjoyed working with them and helping them grow as players and as young men. It’s always difficult to watch the seniors go, but they had a good last season and a heck of a run at regionals. We will miss those guys. Best Wishes to JP, Aric and Colton. It was fun.”