Vikings basketball aims to improve before Districts

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CHARLO HIGH School guard Landers Smith (15) drives the lane. Smith is a key component for the Vikings as they push towards being one of top-two teams in the Class 14-C Districts. (photo by Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

The Charlo boys basketball team finds themselves at a log-jam for the third place spot in the Western 14-C District standings.

The second consecutive loss to Plains cemented them in third place with a limited chance of mobility as they finish the last portion of the regular season schedule against Darby, Phillipsburg, Arlee and Hot Springs.

Vikings’ coach Reese Cox said he is focused on repetition in practice to make sure his team is prepared for the upcoming District Tournament on Feb. 15-17 at Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College.

“I would say on the offensive end we are not quite all the way tuned up with our shooting and we are breaking down different techniques and finding ways to attack defenses,” Cox said. “We continue to make progress in our shots and we have to find more open shots. We are practicing different shots and seeing a lot of progression on that. We are getting higher percentage shot opportunities.

In order for the Vikings to enhance their team’s shooting percentage, they continue to work on various fundamental elements in practice.

“There is not necessarily a lot of repetition of spots,” Cox said. “We try to get open and we continue to put up shots in practice and dial it up.”

Against the Horsemen, Cox continued to showcase his unique ability to strategize for opponents and elected not to implement his team’s 1-3-1 press. The strategy nearly worked as the Vikings found themselves up in the second quarter when Plains gained momentum.

“I kind of didn’t make too many adjustments with the game plan and I didn’t want to play against Plains with the same game plan we had against them in the first game,” Cox said. “After the game, Coach (Mike) Cole didn’t throw my 1-3-1 defense at them. He said he ‘planned a lot during the week for the defense’ and we never showed it. It was a good little strategy.”

Cox’s strategy worked well until the second quarter.

“The first three minutes of the second quarter we missed an opportunity, they grabbed a rebound and hit a three-pointer to go back up by one point,” Cox said. “They played good basketball and we couldn’t fight back from that. We ended up losing by 14. Right from the tip-off, I thought for sure the Plains game was going to be our game that night because we were able to keep the lead for a quarter and a half but Plains just has such good basketball players. They are patient, scrappy and pesky, and their intensity and tenacity took over the game.”

As Cox and his Vikings prepare for Districts but using the last four games to tune up, Cox said he is still focused on coming up with new strategies.

“There are probably still some strategies that I am not noticing and one of the biggest things our team can do is continue to focus on repetition in practice,” Cox said. “We have to continue to rebound and block out every time. Occasionally, we miss an opportunity to do that. We are doing all of that stuff and constantly practicing with our block outs. We have to control the game, control the boards and control the tempo of the game. We have a lot of team speed and it’s tough for teams to keep up with us.”

Cox knows keeping up with the Class C defending champion Arlee Warriors would be a difficult task and only two teams will qualify for Divisionals out of Districts.

In order for the Vikings to be one of the two teams to qualify out of their district for Divisionals, Cox knows they will have to get past a 12-2 Horsemen team.

“We are right there and I keep telling the boys that if we do continue to do some fine tuning, we are going to be right there in contention and possibly pulling some upsets,” Cox said. “The best part of the Class C tournament is playing in front of a packed house with everything on the line.”

Cox had two dates marked on his calendar when he took the job with Charlo: Jan. 11 and Feb. 8. The dates mark the two chances his team has to play and beat the No. 1 ranked Warriors team.

Cox admits he is realistic about the team’s chances but also knows in a tournament format, anything can happen.

“I think Arlee’s mystique to the whole district is worth about 15 points before you even get out on the floor and compete with them,” Cox said. “Arlee gets on you quick. When you are playing them, it doesn’t seem like you are making any progress and all of the sudden, they are up by 20 points.”

The Vikings hope to give the Warriors their first challenge since they defeated Rocky Boy on the opening day of the Native American Classic.

“Rocky Boy was one of Arlee’s toughest challenges,” Cox said. “It’s not in your element and that makes you watching Arlee versus Plains with the outcome practically the same as I would like to give them one of their toughest challenges of the season. I still believe in the upset if (can’t upset them) I hope we can them heck kind of thing.”

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