Indian defense peaking at right time
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Amid the raucous mayhem that can be a home game for the Hays High boys' basketball team this season, it can be difficult to hear what is happening on the court.
Outside of the usual running, jumping and shoving is a whole lot of talking, especially between seniors Kade Parker and Jordan Windholz.
"Me and him always talk," Parker said. "I don't know if everyone can hear me and Jordan, but we are screaming at each other the whole game about where shooters are on the baseline, backside, everything."
It's this talking that is paramount to the Hays High defense, a unit that has given up only 40.8 points per game this season en route to its 22-0 record. The Indians have given up more than 53 points only once all year, a 68-60 win over Abilene on Feb. 18. They have held 11 of their opponents to less than 40 points, three of which didn't make it out of the 20s.
And the scary thing is, the defense has only gotten better toward the end of the season.
"I think a big step in our defense is we are one of the few teams that talks," said junior post player Brady Werth, who leads the team with 72 blocks. "They can't sneak around us as easy, too, when you are talking about where everyone's at. I think it kind of gets in their heads more than anything."
The Indians' defense is peaking at the right time as it enters Wednesday's matchup with Salina Central (13-9) in the opening round of the Class 5A state tournament at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka. Tipoff is set for 6:30 p.m.
Against Wichita West in its sub-state opener last week, Hays High held the Pioneers to 25.9 percent shooting and only five points in the third quarter as it built a 56-28 lead on way to a 68-43 win.
In the sub-state championship game on Friday against Wichita-Bishop Carroll, Hays High held the Golden Eagles to eight first-half points, including a lone free throw in the second quarter, in a 55-38 win. The Indians used a 30-4 run to take a 37-12 lead in that game, much of the offense coming off the numerous Carroll turnovers.
Much of the success on defense goes beyond Werth's 6-foot-7 presence inside and the long arms and quick feet of its guards. It's about the team's ability to communicate on the court and play as a single unit.
"Getting kids to talk on defense is one of the challenges sometimes of coaching, and these guys do it as well as anybody I've ever coached," Hays High coach Rick Keltner said. "Last time we played Central we felt like we didn't do a very good job of finding their shooters. We certainly know we got to try and play better than we did last time."
While they needed overtime, the Mustangs are one of only five teams to reach the 50-point barrier against Hays High this season in their 51-50 overtime loss on Feb. 11 in Salina. During that game, Central made 9 of 19 3-point attempts and shot 50 percent from the field.
And when the teams meet again on Wednesday, the Indians expect to put a much better defense on the court than it had the first time around.
"It was probably one of our worst defensive games all year," Windholz said of the team's first meeting. "We are starting to play defense really good. We are talking really good. I think it will be fun. I like having to play Central again."