As Blackfoot made its way through its first season under new head coach Raimee Odum, the Broncos always fashioned themselves a well-connected machine. They wanted to balance things out, make the right pass, become a team so in-sync that defenses would struggle to account for every weapon at once.
By all accounts, they succeeded. They completed a 15-5 regular season. They have a star in Hadley Humpherys. Around her, they have plucky guards who can shoot and defend, but more importantly, they know where each other are.
For so long, it was a recipe that bloomed into wins by margins wide and slim, including Wednesday's 54-37 win over Skyline in the 4A District 6 tournament.
It isn’t shocking that the Broncos won. What is surprising is the way they did it, taking the Grizzlies out of most everything they like to do: Get stops, run the floor, hit 3s, capitalize on mistakes. It’s doubly impressive considering that just four days ago, Skyline beat Blackfoot in the tournament semifinals, which helped set up Wednesday's matchup.
“I’m not surprised at all,” Blackfoot coach Raimee Odum said, “because my team puts in the work.”
Outside of her team, Odum might have been the only one to expect this.
Either way, these teams will meet again Thursday night in Blackfoot. The winner advances to the 4A state tournament, while the loser will compete in Saturday’s play-in game in Burley. Their opponent has yet to be determined.
Kianna Wright led Blackfoot (18-6) with 18 points. Esperanza Vergara posted 12 points and Humpherys recorded 11, which is the kind of balance that helps explain how the Broncos ran away with this win.
Mattie Olson posted 18 points for Skyline (16-7), but the Grizzlies’ best player hardly looked like herself. She seldom came by clean looks. More often, she shot over a Bronco or two. It seemed to frustrate her.
For Skyline, that represented a microcosm of the game. The Grizzlies’ next leading scorer, Sophie Anderson, managed six points by forcing her way around Humpherys around the basket.
Those baskets helped Skyline claw back, as did Olson’s, but there was a sense that the Grizzlies didn’t look like themselves.
Their 37 points amounted to their lowest-scoring game since December 2018.
“We’ve been preaching that with these girls, defense is really what’s going to help us in every facet of the game,” Odum said. “So when we’re playing solid defense, getting stops, that helps us on the offensive end.”
The Broncos weren’t bad there, either. For the game, they shot 53% from the field, including 4-for-11 from distance. Blackfoot sizzled because it found quick cutters, set timely screens, made shots and stuck back the ones they didn’t. You could likely count the number of the Grizzlies’ easy rebounds on two hands.
That helped Blackfoot, naturally, but it was also a force multiplier. Because the Broncos played so well on offense, the Grizzlies were forced to operate in the half court, which is not their preference. They favor a frenetic pace, which involves them getting stops, running in transition and giving the green light to most anyone who finds themselves open along the perimeter.
Blackfoot may have identified a blueprint to beat Skyline — by slowing the game down.
“It’s a smart strategy,” Skyline coach Ty Keck said. “You take shots away from us. It’s a good idea.”
The Broncos deployed it from the very beginning of Wednesday’s clash.
Blackfoot shot 57% from the field in the first half. The Broncos recorded 10 assists on 12 buckets. Wright registered 12 points and Humpherys posted six. They seemed to share a telepathic connection, finding each other for passes at angles that would make Patrick Mahomes jealous.
Meanwhile, Skyline could manage almost nothing on offense, which was perhaps the most surprising part of the first 16 minutes. Instead, the Grizzlies could seldom get stops, so their offense slowed. Their production nearly halted.
Teams who have a chance to meet Skyline later this postseason would be wise to heed the way Blackfoot did things Wednesday night.
“Being able to play our game and make them feel uncomfortable,” Odum said. “That’s what they did to us before. That’s just kind of how the game goes.”
The Grizzlies, who have not been to state since 2007, will have to make changes accordingly. Keck said that starts with executing better — moving the ball better, sticking to its offensive identity better, finding better shots.
To earn its third straight state bid, Blackfoot will need to top Skyline in the teams’ third meeting in less than a week.
Good thing the Broncos look like the full realization of the vision Odum had all along.
“We’ve had great signs of connecting with each other, and what’s really neat is that every girl contributes in their own way,” Odum said. “They’re so important. It’s not just one person here and there, it’s everybody playing their role at a really high level right now. I’m really proud of them.”
BLACKFOOT 54, SKYLINE 37
Blackfoot 9 19 12 14 — 54
Skyline 8 8 11 10 — 37
BLACKFOOT — Prairie Caldwell 5, Izzy Arave 8, Esperanza Vergara 12, Kianna Wright 18, Hadley Humpherys 11.
SKYLINE — Drew Chapman 5, Sophie Anderson 6, Lizzie Bialas 4, Mattie Olson 18, Tailer Thomas 4.