By BRETT MARSHALL
There's nothing like playing Dodge City to get the adrenaline going for Garden City High School athletes.
Tuesday, it's the basketball version of the western Kansas shootout, when the Buffaloes host the Red Demons at the New Garden.
Tip-off for the boys game will be approximately 7:30 p.m., as it follows the 6 p.m. girls contest.
As if the rivalry needs any help, consider the fact that in the boys battle, the Buffs are 4-1 and riding a three-game winning streak after capturing all of their games in the Clarion Inn Southwest Classic. Throw in the fact that it is the first Western Athletic Conference game for both teams, and you've got the recipe for a big game.
Dodge City also comes to town with a 3-1 record, and a No. 10 ranking in Class 6A by the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, having just knocked off previously unbeaten and No. 8-ranked Class 5A Goddard Eisenhower. The Demons won that test on Friday night, 54-43.
As they have done in the past, the Demons rely on a patient offense and zone defense in controlling the game's tempo. Thus far, they have given up an average of just 37.5 points per game and have held three opponents to under 40 points.
The Buffs, meanwhile, are off to their fastest start since both the 2006 and 2007 teams also got out of the gate at 4-1. And that has third-year coach Jacy Holloway feeling better about where his team is at so early in the campaign.
"Certainly, we're off to a much better start than the last two years (1-4 each season), and I think definitely it's the fact we're doing some things that we've built on from the last two seasons," Holloway said. "They have a better understanding of the game, and it's a different kind of understanding than they were used to."
Holloway cited that his former playing days as a point guard at Moundridge and then starring at Iowa State University provided him an opportunity to learn what all five positions on the court are supposed to be doing.
"We've taken that concept and we've taught the kids that everyone is supposed to know what everyone else is supposed to be doing on the floor," Holloway said. "It's not just one player, but it's all of them. That concept allows us to play everyone in multiple positions. We can put a guard down in the post position or we can move our post player like Austin (Terpstra) out to a wing position where he can hit the jumper. We've got more flexibility in what we can do."
Holloway said the flexibility has given him the options of using different player rotations into the game, making it difficult for teams to scout the Buffs.
Add in the fact that they are off to their best start in a half decade and have won three hotly-contested home games, and Holloway says that he sees progress in the program.
"We've started to learn how to win, and how to win close games is part of that process," Holloway said. "We're finding ways to win and I'm pleased we've been able to take care of defending our home floor. I think we're showing people that we can win and that this team is fun to watch."
The Buffs have easily handled Pratt before losing on the road to a hot-shooting Pueblo East (Colo.) team than 24 hours later. Their wins in the Classic came against Wichita Trinity (73-69) in overtime; Denver South (57-55) and Dumas, Texas (59-52). The 10-day layoff has allowed the Buffs to fine-tune their preparation for Dodge City.
"We'll see some different things in the Dodge game, so that extra practice time is very important," Holloway said. "No doubt, with it being a rival game, first WAC game and at home, it adds to the importance."
The assimilation of the changes that Holloway has implemented into the system has the Buffs scoring at 57.2 points per game, narrowly ahead of the defensive side, which gives up 55.2 points. That defensive effort is one of the big areas Holloway wants to see improve.
"It's getting better, but it's an ongoing process," Holloway said. "We're still not as assertive in the rebounding area as I thought we might be. Overall, though, I see a lot of positives."
It hasn't hurt that the Buffs have had multiple double-figure scorers in each of the recent three wins, including four in the overtime win against Trinity. In addition, no fewer than seven players have scored in each of the five games, with nine getting into the scorebook in that Trinity OT win. Terpstra is the team's leading scorer with an average of 15.4 points while Nanninga is close behind at 14.4.
"We're looking forward to playing on Tuesday and getting back out to see what we've accomplished," Holloway said. "We want to get that early Christmas present."
Notes: Entering final action before the holiday break, the Hays High boys were 5-0, while Great Bend stood at 2-3 and Liberal at 2-4. Liberal faces Ulysses on Tuesday, while Great Bend is finished before the break. Neither Garden nor Dodge play again until after the New Year.