Cougars have home opener Tuesday

Williams, one of three former Bearcats returning to Cougar Palace

The last time Rich Williams, Zach Clemens, and Isaiah Castellaw played a game in Cougar Palace, the Scottsbluff Bearcats won a district championship.

Now, as part of the Western Nebraska Community College men's basketball team, the three players will be back on their championship court when the Cougars have their home opener on Tuesday against Western Wyoming Community College. Tip-off is slated at 7 p.m. after the Cougar women take on Casper College at 5 p.m..

Williams said it feels good to play at home after a rigorous road slate that saw the team face three of the last four national champions.

"Playing at home should be exciting. We drove all the way to Texas, Casper and Gillette [to play quality opponents], so it should be fun to have our first home game," Williams said. "I am very excited for the outcome for the season."

Not only is the Cougars coming into the home opener playing well, for the three Scottsbluff High graduates, Williams said that having won a district title on this court and then being a part of the Cougar team this year is special.

"It was fun when I played the district championship game on the court and now I am in college playing for the Cougars," he said. "It should be fun."

The WNCC men have been a team that has showed plenty of scoring as of late. The Cougars are averaging 80 points a game, but more importantly, they have played a tough first five games. The Cougars split contests in the season opening tournament in Gillette, Wyo., beating Gillette College before falling 107-104 in overtime to Gillette.

WNCC then fell to defending national champions South Plains College 102-49 on the road. After that loss on Nov. 6, the Cougars have turned around the season at the Region 18/9 Showcase last weekend, where they fell in a heartbreaker to the College of Southern Idaho 68-67 after holding a 35-34 halftime lead. The Cougars rebounded with a 82-76 win over Salt Lake Community College on Saturday.

Against Salt Lake, the Cougars trailed 37-30 at halftime before erupting for 52 second half points to sting the Bruins.

The Salt Lake contest saw the Cougars bury 10 3-pointers. Willie Mangum paced the Cougars with 32 points, including six 3-pointers, while Charles Ward pitched in 23 points and three treys. Trey Moore had the other 3-pointer.

Williams said they are starting to click as a team.

"We played great both games," he said. "The chemistry has come a long ways since South Plains," he said. "We are playing more as a team now. That Salt Lake win was huge for us in the way we moved the ball around more and more, and not being as selfish. We played like a team like we should have at the beginning of the year."

Williams said anyone on the team can score, even though the big scorers on the season have been Mangum and Ward. That offensive threat will pay dividends in the long run for the team.

"We have some really good scorers with Charles and Willie," he said. "They should inspire the crowd."

What is making this team special, however, is that since that loss to South Plains, the team has really stepped up. The 10 days of practice between games turned the team around for the better, according to Williams.

"The beginning of the season was rough, but once we got to the Southern Idaho game that is when everything starting clicking," he said. "We started slowing down and running our plays, making the extra passes so another player can score, and right know our chemistry is really good."

After Tuesday's home opener, the Cougars will be off through the Thanksgiving break before hosting Casper College on Nov. 27 at 7 p.m.Top of Form

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