The last time around it was a sleeper.
With more at stake, the third contest between Moffat County High School and the Rifle boys basketball teams should be a little different.
"Last time we spread the offense and the game was probably boring to watch," Moffat County senior Cody Palmer said. "I expect it to be more up-tempo this time."
When the teams met 12 days ago the Bulldogs came out in a 2-3 zone and shut down the Bears' offense. In the second half, Moffat County was up by double figures and the command from coach Mike LeWarne was to run as much clock as possible with each offensive possession.
"There was a lot of passing and not a lot of action last time," LeWarne said. "I think Rifle will adjust and we'll se a different game."
The Bulldogs and Bears split during the regular season. Each team won when it was at home. At the district tournament tonight neither team will have the home court advantage with the game tipping off at 4:45 p.m. in Palisade.
"Rifle is a good team that hasn't been playing good," LeWarne said. "We aren't going to take them lightly."
The Bears were undefeated last year in Western Slope Conference play. This year, things haven't gone as well with the defending champions losing five times. The Bears finished fourth in the league behind the improving Palisade Bulldogs. The Bulldogs won five of their last six conference games including wins against Moffat County and Rifle.
Possibly the only team hotter than Palisade the second half of conference play has been Moffat County. The blue and white Bulldogs won five of their last six to earn the second place spot in the WSC behind Steamboat Springs.
"We're playing well at the right time of the year," LeWarne said. "I've told the guys all year that their hard work would pay off and things are coming together."
Part of the success for Moffat County has been the increased scoring from Palmer and sophomore Kevin Loughran.
"Kevin has really picked it up the last couple of weeks," LeWarne said. "Of course you have to give credit to the guys getting him more involved in the game."
The winner of the first-round game will face the winner of the game between Montezuma-Cortez and Glenwood Springs. Last year Cortez handed the Bulldogs their worst loss of the season, 64-32.
Win or lose tonight, the Bulldogs will play at 8:15 p.m. Friday. If they beat Rifle they'll play at Fruita-Monument High School. If they lose they'll be back at Palisade. The tournament, which is usually at Mesa State College, was moved this year because conference officials thought the district tournament format was over. That won't happen until next year when Class 4A will model Class 5A's 48-team bracket.
The other half of the bracket is Steamboat Springs vs. Rifle and Palisade vs. Montrose.
The top five teams from the district tournament will move on to the 32-team field that will compete to get to the state tournament in Denver.
"I think we should at least get third," Palmer said. "We have to get past Rifle first though."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 970-824-7031 ext. 211 or firstname.lastname@example.org