Mike LeWarne doesn't like the saying, "We're better than our record shows." But the Moffat County High School boys basketball coach knows that better things are to come for his Bulldogs, who are 2-3.
"We played a tough schedule in December and it shows in our record so I don't think that we're any better than 2-3," the second-year coach said. "I think we're a better team than we showed, but I think our record represents the level of competition we played."
The Bulldogs had two losses in the Virgin Valley Holiday Cactus Classic Tournament in Mesquite, Nev. and fell 46-64 to top-five ranked Evergreen in the last game before break.
"We lost to top teams from the state of Nevada, Utah and Colorado," LeWarne said. "Those games can only help us as we get into league play."
The Bulldogs struggled to find the shooting touch in December, shooting 38 percent from the field and 21 percent from beyond the three-point arch.
"Shooting is something that needs to come along," LeWarne said. "I'd like to see us around 45 percent from the field."
The Bulldogs finished second behind Rifle in the regular season of the Western Slope Conference last year. This year, the Bears and Bulldogs start January at the bottom of the league with 2-3 records. Both teams played in tournaments against larger classification schools to start the season.
"Our first goal every year is to win the league," LeWarne said. "With the parity that we expect this will be a league that's hard to win. But in February I think we'll be there."
In order to be there, the Bulldogs will count on offensive production from senior Anthony Loughran who leads the team with 15 points per game and has averaged double figures in rebounds the first month. The blue and white will also need to improve its outside shooting, something that started to come around against Evergreen.
"It was good to see (sophomore) Derek (Duran) start to feel it again (five three-pointers) against the Cougars," LeWarne said. "He can shoot; it just didn't fall for him early."
One aspect that LeWarne said he was impressed with every night from his team was its willingness to fight on every possession.
"They listen and go out and do what we ask of them every time," LeWarne said. "We take pride in our defense and that is what will keep us in games."
The only team to score more than 50 points against the Bulldogs in December was Evergreen, which hit its first nine shots in the game including four three-pointers.
"I have no doubt we'll be in people's faces every game," LeWarne said. "This team is full of fighters and guys who are willing to bust it on D."
Today the Bulldogs get to bust it twice with two practices to get ready for their game against Rangely Saturday.
The Colorado High School Activities Association requires no coach contact with its team from Dec. 24 to Jan 1, so the Bulldogs have their first time with LeWarne in nearly two weeks today.
"It's a tough situation to have one day to prepare for a team," LeWarne said. "So we're going to go twice with the first practice getting the fundamentals back and the second to prepare for Rangely."
Rangely returns six players from last year's Class 2A state runners up. It's a game that LeWarne is leery about.
"Losing to a lower division school, no matter how good they are, doesn't look good at the end of the season," he said. "Rangely is a good team that we need to beat."
The Panters' only loss in December came against the WSC's Steamboat Springs (43-33).
"Steamboat was without its best player and Rangley was without its best shooter," LeWarne said. "So the game might not be a measure of where we stack up against Steamboat, but it will be close."
The varsity game against the Panthers begins at 2:30 pm in Rangely.
League play starts for the Bulldogs Jan. 9 in Palisade.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org