Panthers start fast at Herder Classic, defeat 2A foes, 3A Thermopolis

Mike Moore photo
The Wright Panthers celebrate after scoring a point against Greybull Dec. 8 at the Herder Classic. 

By: 
Eddie Poe eddie@hpsentinel.com

They were chomping at the bit to play their first true opponent, a feeling that had been building from within since the end of last season.
The Wright Panthers will challenge you on both sides of the court at all times. They’ll display their physicality in the paint and under the basket. They’ll move the ball up and down the court with athleticism and on the perimeter, they’ll bury you with a hoard of capable scorers.
Each aspect of their game was on display this past weekend at the Herder Classic in Glenrock as the Panthers overwhelmed Thermopolis, overcame an early deficit to defeat Rocky Mountain and used a 23-point performance from Cody Thompson to slow down Greybull.
“You can’t highlight just one player, it’s a true team aspect,” head coach Pat Neely said about Wright’s performance in Glenrock. “That’s what makes it so fun to coach them.”
In the tournament opener against Thermopolis, the Panthers built a 30-point lead on the Bobcats thanks in part to strong play in the paint and off the bench.
With Cody Thompson contained for most of the game, Logan Robb led the way for Wright with 17 points and 7 rebounds. The Panthers also saw significant contributions from Chase Lewis and Kc Krieter off the bench. Lewis finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds and Krieter added 14 points on a perfect 3-for-3 from behind the arc.
“That’s always pretty positive when your team can bring 30 points off the bench, it makes it very difficult to guard,” Neely said. “We have seven players minimum who are capable of going out each game and scoring at least 15 points. We look at our bench as a positive.”
In their second game on Friday against Rocky Mountain, Wright fell behind early and trailed the Grizzlies 15-9 at the end of the first quarter. But the Panthers didn’t waver.
They responded by going on a run in the second quarter and outscored Rocky Mountain 17-8 to retake the lead. From there the Panthers held on to win 51-47. Krieter netted 14 points and Thompson finished with 9 points and 11 rebounds.
“Our defense stepped up when it needed to against Rocky Mountain,” Neely pointed out. “When you can create 34 turnovers and finish with 25 offensive rebounds, you create 59 extra opportunities for yourself.”
Neely continues to praise his team for how well they complement one another and their ability to play unselfishly. One example is Jayden Vasquez. Although he may not stand out on the stat sheet, he’s the type of player that does what he needs to for others.
“He knows his role on the court and plays great defense,” Neely said. “That’s what makes teams successful.”
In their final game on Saturday, Thompson broke free from the Greybull defense and poured in 23 points, 10 rebounds and added 2 steals. The Panthers also saw versatile performances from Ace Leithead and Ian Knudsen en route to a 68-47 win.
Leithead finished with 12 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals. Knudsen added 10 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 5 steals.
“Each week out the pressure builds,” Neely said. “But that’s a compliment to this team and what they’ve accomplished. We challenged ourselves last weekend and this weekend we’ll be stepping it up again. We feel our kids are up to the challenge.”
A grueling practice on Monday is a reminder to the Panthers that in order to reach their ultimate goal, they have to be willing to put in the time and sacrifice.
“We just have to be ready to take everybody’s best shot,” Neely added.
Wright returns to the court with three games on Friday at the Foothills Classic. They’ll face Wind River, Big Horn and Wyoming Indian. Neely and the Panthers are already anticipating a tough opening game.
“One thing we’re focusing on is coming and meeting the basketball,” he said. “Wind River is going to be relentless with their pressure, they come at you and swarm you. We’re going to focus on keeping a fast pace but under control.”
Taking a line from the late-great college basketball coach, John Wooden: “Be quick, don’t hurry.”

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