Cougar men open play Sunday

The Western Nebraska Community College men's basketball team will kick off the Region IX basketball tournament on Sunday.

The Cougars, 17-13, will play the final game of the first round when they take on Miles Community College at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Bank of Colorado Events Center in Sterling, Colo.

Diante Mitchell, who is one of the Cougars' top scorers this season, said they are ready to take part in the tournament.

"We are really excited for the regional tournament," Mitchell said. "I mean we have a week of straight practices where know we are excited to be able to go back out and playing some games."

It won't be easy, however. The Cougars first have to get by Miles Community College, a team that enters the tournament with a 14-16, which is pretty similar to WNCC.

Mitchell said they have been preparing for the Pioneers, but it is more or less how they perform on the court.

"Preparing for Miles is a lot of preparation on ourselves," Mitchell said. "We knew throughout the year that we needed to improve on small things and all week we have been preparing for Miles and some of their sets they run. Overall, though, we just focus on the things that we need to do."

The Pioneers are led by Jonathan Dogo, who is averaging 15.5 points a game. Miles also has three other players averaging in double figures with Ryan McCarty at 12.3, Teslim Idris at 10.7, and Levi Hagemeister at 10.2.

The Cougars also have a potent lineup, with five players averaging in double digits. Brandon Morley, the seven-foot center is chipping in 15.8 points from the inside, while Mitchell and Joel Einfeldt follow averaging 14.9 and 12.8 points a game.

Tyler Crosbie and Youssoupha Kane also are up there, averaging 12.0 and 10.3 points a game. The Cougar men also have been getting production off the bench as Preston Christensen and Derrick Bowers have been stepping up in the final weeks of the season. Christensen is averaging 8.8 points a game while Bowers is at 8.3 points.

Mitchell said this team has a good inside and outside combination and when both are clicking, this team can put up points.

"We feel that if we can feed the ball to our posts that we have, we are pretty hard to stop," he said. "They can go and score one on one against anyone in the country and they decide to double them, that means they are leaving a shooter open somewhere and we be able to knock down open shots."

WNCC is averaging 87 points a game compared to 78 for Miles. In fact, in the second semester, the Cougars have scored over 80 points in 10 of their last 15 games. Plus, they have played many teams close despite losing, including potential second round match-up of No. 10 Northeastern Junior College. The Cougars fell to NJC in the last game of the regular season 91-86 at Sterling, Colo.

Mitchell said if they do the little things, which includes not making silly turnovers, this team can realize their dream of a trip to the national tournament.

"i think it is important to focus on our game. We all know we have the talent to go out and win this tournament and end up at the national tournament," Mitchell said. "It has been our dream and our goal since the start of the year. The only team that can stop us is us. So, if we can focus on the things that we need to do, we can go out and win this tournament."

For the Cougars to get that regional title, something they haven't done since 2003.

"The regional tournament won't be easy to win especially with four back-to-back games," Mitchell said. "At the same time we have to take care of our bodies, make sure we are getting enough sleep, and be well rested before each game."

The tournament started Saturday with four games and the rest of the first round finished up on Sunday. The championship game is slated for Wednesday at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the national tournament in Hutchinson, Kan.

Tournament Schedule

Saturday, March 1

1 p.m. -- North Platte vs. Central Wyoming

3 p.m. -- Gillette vs. Trinidad State

6 p.m. -- Sheridan vs. Otero

8 p.m. -- Northeastern Colorado vs. Little Big Horn

Sunday, March 2

1 p.m. -- Casper vs. Lamar

3 p.m. -- McCook vs. Western Wyoming

6 p.m. -- Laramie County vs. Northwest Wyoming

8 p.m. -- Miles vs. WNCC

Monday, March 3

1 p.m. -- winners of 1 p.m. games

3 p.m. -- winners of 3 p.m. games

6 p.m. -- winners of 6 p.m. games

8 p.m. -- winners of 8 p.m. games

Tuesday, March 4

6 p.m. -- winners of Monday's afternoon games

8 p.m. -- winners of Monday's evening games

Wednesday, March 5

Championship -- 7 p.m.

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