Winning cures all that ails a team.
The Great Bend High School Panthers stumbled through the early portion of their basketball schedule, losing five of their first six games, including a 41-32 setback at Garden City in the Western Athletic Conference opener on Jan. 4.
Suddenly, the Panthers hit their stride this past week, beating Hays 48-40 in their home opener on Jan. 8 and then traveling to Dodge City last Friday and toppling the two-time WAC-champion Red Demons, 49-43, to improve to 2-1 in conference play.
“This little bit of momentum is going to be important and, hopefully, propel us in this tournament,” said Great Bend head coach Chris Battin of today’s 4 p.m. opener against No. 2-seeded Wichita Collegiate (6-2) in the 45th annual Bluestem Classic in El Dorado. “I think it was the fact that we were playing our big rivalry game (against Hays) and we just kind of learned what it takes to win.
“Sometimes it takes a big game like that game to understand how hard you actually have to play this game to sometimes win. We felt like that kind of propelled us in the right direction. Going into Dodge City, a place where we haven’t won for a long time, it was nice to go in there and compete and ultimately, come out with a victory.”
Collegiate is one of three games the Panthers will be playing in the three-day tourney.
“We’re going to see a really good Wichita Collegiate team, which is going to be all over the floor,” Battin said. “They’re going to be pressing. They’re good offensively. They get a lot of cheap baskets, so we’re going to have to play our best to compete with them.”
Last week, Collegiate’s top player, guard Markus Phox, broke his foot and likely is lost for the remainder of the season. He is being recruited by Ivy League school Princeton.
The winner of the Great Bend/Collegiate game plays tonight’s 8:45 Kapaun Mt. Carmel/Circle winner on Friday night at 6:15. The losing teams from those games play at 4:30 on Friday.
Kapaun Mt. Carmel, the defending Class 5A state champion, owns a 6-2 record, and Circle is 1-7.
In the other bracket of the eight-team tournament, Gardner Edgerton (3-5), coached by former GBHS head coach Jeff Langreher, plays Wichita Trinity at 5:45 tonight. El Dorado (7-1)plays Campus (1-8) tonight at 7:15.