By KATIE BROWN
The Daily Inter Lake
No matter the opponent, the Glacier Wolfpack basketball team is just going to stick with what it does best at the Class AA girls state tournament in Butte.
As the No. 4 seed out of the Western, Glacier (14-8) faces Eastern No. 1 seed Billings West (19-1) today at 1:30 p.m. at Butte Civic Center.
“We’re not intimidated by anyone in the tournament,” Glacier coach Bill Sullivan said. “Everyone’s 0-0 and everyone’s trying to win games.”
At the Western AA Divisional tournament last week, Glacier lost to Helena High 47-40 in the consolation final. Earlier in the season, the Wolfpack handed the top-ranked Bengals their first loss of the season.
There’s confidence in Glacier’s ability to play well against teams that may be a little bigger, faster and high scoring. And playing teams like that is par for the course at state.
“Regardless of where you’re at in the tournament you’ve got to play the great teams,” Sullivan said.
Billings West handily beat Butte 53-35 in the Eastern AA Divisional to earn the top seed and has the benefit of being in a different bracket than Helena and Helena Capital, the two other state title favorites. West’s lone loss was 39-37 to Laurel on Jan. 15.
“We’ll have our hands full,” Sullivan said of West.
“Not a lot of girls gone from last year, so they understand what the tournament means. They’re big, they run the floor very well, they can shoot from the post.”
West’s top scorers, TyRaa Manuel and Shayla Montague, are capable of putting up double digits on any given night. Manuel scored 25 against Butte in the divisional championship game. Montague had 11.
The Wolfpack has a couple like that.
Averaging 8.9 points per game, senior forward Kali Gulick is Glacier’s leading scorer. Senior point guard Raley Shirey and junior forward Aubrie Rademacher both average 8.1 points per game. Ellie Keller, a sophomore guard, averages 7.1.
Shirey and Keller scored nine points apiece against Helena at divisionals.
Though they don’t average double digits, Sullivan said all four players are capable of scoring double digits and have done so during the regular season.
Glacier hasn’t been a high-scoring team this year, but it’s not for lack of trying, Sullivan said. The shots have been there but sometimes the ball doesn’t get where it needs to be.
“We have to be efficient and we have to make shots,” he said.
“When we struggle, the ball just doesn’t go through the hoop. I don’t feel that we’re ever in a position where we haven’t gotten good looks. Those shots just have to go down.”
Scoring aside, defense has been Glacier’s bread and butter this season.
“We’re we’ll balanced, Sullivan said. “They’ve got to be willing to play defense on everybody.”
Helena was held to 31 points in the Wolfpack’s 34-31 victory on Feb. 15. Jamie Pickens, one of the leading scorers in the state, finished with 11. Helena typically scores upwards of 50 points, Pickens has scored 30-plus.
“It’s not uncommon for those high scoring teams to score a lot but not when they play us,” Sullivan said.
“We’re not worried about what they average or how much they score. On the defensive end we’ve got to be pretty stellar.”
The Wolfpack stopped to practice in Missoula before arriving in Butte on Wednesday afternoon. In preparing for the state tournament, Sullivan is keeping things simple.
“You have to have a lot of focus on yourself,” he said. “Obviously prepare for some things, but we know what our strengths and weaknesses are. We’re staying in touch with what we do.”
Gulick, who left Saturday’s consolation game with a jammed thumb, will play in Glacier’s tournament-opening game against West.
“She’s been practicing all week, so I’m sure she’ll be fired up come game time,” Sullivan said.
Glacier opened the state tournament against West last year and won 50-40. Gulick scored 11 points, Shirey four.
The Wolfpack was felled 63-52 in the semifinals by the eventual state champion, Helena, who looks to win the title for its third consecutive year.
Class AA State Tournament
At Butte Civic Center
Thursday’s First-Round Games
12 p.m. – Missoula Hellgate vs. Billings Senior
1:30 p.m. – Billings West vs. Glacier
6:30 p.m. – Butte vs. Helena High
8 p.m. – Helena Capital vs. Great Falls
9 a.m. – Helena Capital vs. Billings West
10:30 a.m. – Bozeman vs. Helena High
3:30 p.m. – Great Falls vs. Missoula Sentinel
5 p.m. – Missoula Hellgate vs. Billings Skyview