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Get ready for Wyoming's best basketball tourney

Feb 22, 2012 - By Randy Tucker Staff Writer

Conventional wisdom has the Lovell Bulldogs favored to win both the boys and girls Class 2-A West regional basketball championships this weekend at Wolverine Gym. at Riverton High School.

Lovell enters the tournament top-ranked in both divisions and has a pair of wins over the always formidable Wyoming Indian High School Chiefs and Lady Chiefs.

In the girls division the Bulldogs won in close contests, but on the boys side they blew out the Chiefs by more than 30 points in games played at Ethete and in Big Horn County.

This is where the fun part comes in. Lovell lost just two games in Class 2-A this season, one by nine points on the opening weekend of the year to Wind River, the other just two weeks ago to Greybull.

The Chiefs and Greybull open tournament play at Riverton High School at 5 p.m. Thursday, with the winner most likely playing Lovell on Friday night. Lovell has to get by either Shoshoni or Big Piney in the late game Thursday night.

In the mindset of Chadron State beats Montana State, who beats Colorado, who then defeats Nebraska in football, thus making Chadron State the best team in Nebraska, anything can happen in tournament play.

The Wind River Cougars enter the tournament with just two losses, both at the hands of the Chiefs. Then again, the Cougars beat the Chiefs at Ethete and fell in a class at Pavillion just last Friday.

Lovell, Wyoming Indian and Wind River are all pre-emptive favorites to make the state tournament with either Kemmerer or Greybull taking the other spot.

In the lore of Wyoming basketball, that outcome is far from certain.

In the past, both St. Stephen's and Shoshoni slipped into the state tournament as fourth-place seeds from the West and came home with state championships. In one very memorable season, relayed by a now retired Bulldog player from the early 1960s, Lovell finished the regular season without a win but took three at regionals and then three at state and finished 6-16 as state champions.

Three favorites and two challengers isn't quite the entire story. Kemmerer lost to Wind River by just two points, and then the Rangers barely edged Shoshoni in a controversial overtime finish.

The picture is just as murky on the girls side.

Lovell is again the favorite but Shoshoni has risen from the proverbial ashes and is a balanced force in the tournament.

The Wranglers split with the Lady Chiefs this season, and Wind River surprised the Chiefs with a one-point upset at home, then fell hard a month later at Pavillion.

Kemmerer was pounded by both Wyoming Indian and Shoshoni but beat Wind River at home.

Thermopolis fell to Shoshoni but edged Wind River. Rocky Mountain split with Thermopolis with both winning on the road, just as Wyoming Indian did with both Shoshoni and Wind River.

Tournament play often comes down to depth, and Wyoming Indian and Shoshoni have developed formidable benches as the season has progressed. Both schools often get a decided lift when the substitutes hit the floor.

The West 2-A regional is the best tournament in Wyoming, drawing more fans and earning more local revenue than all the other 1-A and 2-A tournaments combined, while far outdistancing every other tournament aside from the state finals in Casper.

Welcome our guests and be thankful for the effort that Riverton High School makes every year.

If you own a restaurant, motel or retail business you should make it a point to thank your local school for this economic boost.

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