Feb 20, 2012 - By Randy Tucker Sports WriterPAVILLION -- The Wind River High School parking lot was closed three hours before tipoff. Fans who endured the standing-room only conditions in the fully packed Cougar gym were rewarded by one of the best basketball games a fan could ask for.
Eight lead changes highlighted a back-and-forth battle for the Class 2-A Southwest crown before Wyoming Indian seniors Ron Mitchell and John Soundingsides put the issue to rest, hitting four straight free throws in the final minute of the game to preserve a narrow Chief lead.
Wyoming Indian won the "rubber match" 70-65 after beating, then losing to the Cougars in two previous meetings this season at Ethete. The Chiefs entered the game with a 6-1 conference mark, and the Cougars were unbeaten at 7-0. They finish the regular season as conference co-champions.
A brief, friendly conversation, followed by a fist bump between Wind River's Ward Gordon and Wyoming Indian's Alvin Spoonhunter as they both waited on the bench to re-enter the game summed up the rivalry as well as the action on the floor.
Wind River school administrators called in extra security for the game, but it was in preparation for adults acting as children in the stands, not for the exemplary sportsmanship the boys on the floor displayed throughout the contest.
Round three went to the Chiefs, but it wasn't easy.
After Soundingsides's record-setting 65-point performance the night before against Shoshoni, the Cougars kept an eye on him. Wind River stayed in man-to-man defense for nearly the entire game, and the Cougars did an excellent job of defending Soundingsides both on the perimeter as he drove to the basket.
Any defense leaves open areas, and the Chiefs found 6-4 sophomore Joseph Howell in the post early in the game. Howell tallied the first points of the contest just four seconds after the opening tip.
Tyson Lone Bear quickly answered for the Cougars with a layup just six seconds later, followed by a 3-pointer. The show was on.
Jesse Brown nailed another trey, and the Cougars held an 8-2 lead just a minute into the game.
Chiefs stay calm
In four decades of tradition, the Chiefs have played nearly every team in Wyoming and surrounding states, including Class 4-A Casper Natrona, Scottsbluff, Neb., and a bevy of talented teams in Idaho and Montana. The early deficit didn't faze them.
Howell hit a pair of free throws, Spoonhunter drained a 3-pointer, and Joey Aragon hit a running jumper. In less than a minute the Chiefs held a 9-8 lead on the 7-0 spurt.
A Roger Wagon 3-pointer and a Ryan Weliever follow shot put the Cougars ahead by four, but that Chiefs quickly tied the game again at 13. It was a pattern repeated constantly over the next hour of play.
Wind River held a three-point lead as the second period opened. Lone Bear dazzled both sides of the crowd with a breakaway dunk on a coast-to-coast drive at 7:26 that led Wyoming Indian head coach Craig Ferris to call a quick timeout.
The Chiefs trailed by as many as five points throughout the period as the teams exchanged baskets on one spectacular play after another. Spoonhunter hit another trey to close the game to two points late in the half, and Wilson Clifford hit a reverse layup with 33 seconds left to slice the gap to a single point.
But Brown found sophomore Tyler Rupe open in the post on a blistering pass, and Rupe just beat the buzzer to give the Cougars a 37-34 advantage at the intermission.
Soundingsides had just four points for Wyoming Indian at the half. The Cougars were in moderate foul trouble with three players whistled for three fouls in the opening half.
Aragon tied the game at 39 with 6:29 left in the third quarter, but an 8-1 run on a Wagon trey, a Brown layup and a power move and subsequent free throw by Weliever gave the Cougars their largest lead of the game at 47-40.
A collective gasp went through the Wind River crowd as Soundingsides finally took his first 3-point attempt with 3:30 left in the period and drained it. He hit a follow shot and then stunned the Cougar crowd again with a 24-foot 3-pointer that tied the score at 55 as the quarter buzzer sounded.
Brown and Lone Bear each hit baskets to answer an Aragon jumper, but Soundingsides hit a hit final trey of the game with 6:22 left. The Chiefs never trailed again.
Mitchell nailed a trey as well and was tremendous at the free-throw line on the night, hitting seven of eight attempts.
Brown hit a running jumper in the paint to cut the lead to 68-65, and the Cougars had a last chance for a three-point play but turned the ball over, and the Chiefs grabbed a share of the Southwest 2-A crown.
Immediately after the game Wind River head coach Tony Selph met with Ferris, with Wind River athletic director Justin Walker and Wyoming Indian Elementary principal Owen St. Clair who is also a member of the Wyoming High School Activities Association Board.
Walker provided a quarter, and Ferris called "tails" on the flip for regional seeding. The coin came up heads, and Wind River took the top seed with the Chiefs seeded second.
Wind River awaits the winner of Monday's challenge game between Riverside and Thermopolis, while Wyoming Indian will face Greybull at 5 p.m. Thursday at Wolverine Gym in Riverton, with Wind River's game to follow on the same floor.
WIND RIVER 20 17 18 10 -- 65
WYOMING INDIAN 17 17 21 15 -- 70
Wind River -- Joe Tidzump 1 0-0 2, Joe Lupher 0-2 0, Ryan Weliever 3 2-3 8, Tyson Lone Bear 4 (2) 2-4 16, Roger Wagon 2 (3) 1-1 14, Jesse Brown 8 (1) 2-2 21, Tyler Rupe 2 0-1 4. Totals 20 (6) 7-13 65
Wyoming Indian -- Shane Willow 1-4 1, Tyler Penatac 1 0-1 2, Joey Aragon 5 0-2 10, Wilson Clifford 3 0-0 6, Joseph Howell 3 4-10 10, Ron Mitchell 1 (1) 7-8 12, Alvin Spoonhunter (2) 0-0 6, John Soundingsides 4 (3) 4-6 21, Trevor Williamson 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 (6) 16-34
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