Pirates basketball gets ready for Class A District play, regular season-finale

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COLUMBIA FALLS Forward Matthew Morrison fights for a rebound with Shade Main (left) and Connor Lanier (right) during the first half of the Polson-Columbia Falls game Tuesday in Joe McDonald Gym at Salish Kootenai College. (Jason Blasco/Lake County Leader)

Polson Pirates boys’ basketball coach Randy Kelley continues to preach the fundamental elements of basketball during the final stretch of the regular season.

The Pirates, who are a member of a competitive conference closely contested from top to bottom and lost back-to-back conference games against Columbia Falls and Browning this week, have to focus on reducing turnovers as they prepare to move forward in District play.

The Pirates fell to Columbia Falls 51-45 Tuesday night and Browning 50-40 Friday night. Kelley said turnovers were the major reason for the Pirates falling to Browning, the No. 1 rated team in the District Saturday night.

“We had too many unforced turnovers on our part and that is something that we need to clean up,” Kelley said. “If you look at the game against Columbia Falls, we only had seven turnovers but we didn’t have any ball movement and energy on defense. I am really worried about that headed into the last week of the tournament and regular season.”

Overtime games are frequent in the conference this year, according to Kelley. The Pirates have played in two overtime games against Ronan and Libby this year and were victorious in both contests. They defeated the two teams in double-overtime including the Chiefs 77-75 and the Loggers 65-63 on Jan. 13.

“I was just commenting on how many overtime games we have had within our conference in the district and every night in our conference is a dogfight,” Kelley said. “The teams that rebound well and are shooting well during this time of the season are the teams that usually punch their ticket to the next tournament. We are seeing other teams in the tournament getting better and our district is going to be a tough tournament to get out of.”

Kelley would like to see the Pirates improve their free throw percentage and get to the line with more consistency.

“We just aren’t getting to the line there enough,” Kelley said. We shot six free throws and four throws and we are just lacking on the offensive end. We have to become more aggressive. We are turning the corner with that and then we take a step back. We just need to get to the free throw line more.”

The Pirates will need to modify their offensive mindset and the good news for Polson is that their mistakes are correctable.

“I think that is something that we have to do offensively because it’s our mindset that isn’t correct,” Kelley said. “We hesitated shooting the ball and to attack the ball off the dribble. For some reason, we just don’t have the confidence to play with people and let people become a little more physical. We’ve got to clean that up in two weeks and it’s doable but we have a long way to go.”

In order to improve and get ready for District, the intensity of the Pirates’ practices will be amplified.

“Our practices have to become more physical,” Kelley said. “Right now, we are just going through the motions and our practices are going to have to be amped up the next couple of weeks.”

The Pirates’ difficult schedule should benefit them if they are able to get out of their own Class A District on Feb. 15-17 at the Ronan Events Center.

“Our schedule benefits us as long as we get out of Districts,” Kelley said. “We’ve played Hamilton, Frenchtown and every team except Dillon. You have to be playing well and get out of District. For myself, I would have the confidence to take on any team out of the southwest and sell that to my players.”

Some of the Pirates’ regression during the season simply had to do with youth and inexperience at the varsity level.

“Every year I’ve coached, we’ve always been in this stage in our schedule and have taken a step back, reflected and done things a little different,” Kelley said. “Maybe this is a good time for us with making mistakes because hopefully, we have time to clean it up. It should be interesting the next two weeks.”

The Pirates will get two final games before they begin preparation for the Western District Feb 15-17 at the Ronan Events Center. Polson will travel to Bigfork Thursday night and host Libby Saturday night.

The Pirates could still feasibly get a No. 2 seed in their District.

“It’s huge and it would be nice to get that number two seed and get that bye,” Kelley said. “Like I said, getting a higher seed would be easier said than done.”

The Pirates basketball team will have all they can handle when they face the Loggers’ JJ Davis and Ryggs Johnston.

“They have some guards that can shoot well and Ryggs is a big part of their offensive attack,” Kelley said. “We manned up on them last time and Conner (Lanier) did a pretty good job. Our team had their hands full with Ryggs. He’s their go-to type of kid and this time of year, other kids can start getting confidence and get a couple of buckets. If you are playing good team defense, that is a way to punch your ticket to State.”

Kelley said he felt a ten point lead isn’t safe against Libby with Johnston shooting.

“With Ryggs on the floor, he will find a way to get a shot off and that is what makes this tournament pretty exciting and can really turn the tide offensively,” Kelley said. “There are a lot of teams that live and die by the three. We scored 39 points against Whitefish in the first period. This time of year, we live and die with our defense and we have good team defense.”

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