Three things to watch: Windsor girls, Highland boys and Briggsdale try to cap long, challenging seasons with basketball state titles | MyWindsorNow.com
Bobby Fernandez
bfernandez@greeleytribune.com

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Three things to watch: Windsor girls, Highland boys and Briggsdale try to cap long, challenging seasons with basketball state titles

What's 36 divided by 12?

The number of Weld County basketball programs still alive during the final week of the winter season — a resilient trio whittled down from the county's original 36 teams.

And what's three times 12? Well, that represents the proverbial "12 rounds" the Windsor girls, Highland boys and Briggsdale girls have each endured this season.

Like a classic prizefighter, they've gone the distance. They've endured jabs and haymakers alike.

They've survived the rigors of the nearly fourth-month season. They've persevered through injury and illness. They've scored upsets and answered the bell against relentless challengers.

Now, here they are.

The fifth-seeded Wizards (20-6) are one of four teams remaining in the Class 4A Girls Basketball Championships. They will take on top-seeded Pueblo South (24-2) in the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. today at the Denver Coliseum.

Highland and Briggsdale are each among the eight teams left in their respective classifications.

The undefeated, fifth-seeded Huskies (23-0) face fourth-seeded Akron (18-5) in the first round of the 2A Boys Championships at 8:30 tonight at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland.

Last year's state runner-up, fifth-seeded Briggsdale (18-5) matches up with No. 4 South Baca (19-3) in the first round of the 1A Girls Basketball Championships at 8:45 a.m. today at the University of Northern Colorado's Bank of Colorado Arena.

Here are three things to watch heading into the final weekend of the season:

1 Can Windsor start fast, build steam against the top seed?

The Wizards have built early momentum in two of their three playoff victories, starting 23-9 in a 70-41 second-round win against Erie on Feb. 24 and 23-13 in a 56-43 quarterfinal win Friday against Rifle. The only exception was Windsor's 49-43 third-round win against Classical Academy on Feb. 28, a game in which the Wizards started the second half fast, dominating the third quarter, 18-9.

Playing in a foreign environment — the Denver Coliseum — and venturing into uncharted territory with the state semifinals, Windsor doesn't want to play from behind against a team as potent offensively as the top-seeded Colts.

Pueblo South averages 58.6 points per game and doesn't surrender many leads.

Conversely, with a disciplined offense and a stifling defense, the Wizards are also as well-suited to hold a lead as any team among the final four.

Windsor and Pueblo South played before with the Colts winning 52-45 on Dec. 22, a game in which the two teams traded baskets and neither squad created early momentum before Pueblo South took control in the fourth quarter.

If the Wizards can go up eight to 10 points in the first half today, they likely have the hardiness to punch their ticket to the title game at 1 p.m. Saturday.

2 Can Highland handle the pressure?

The Huskies have one state title in its program's history: the 3A crown in 2000. But Highland has arguably never faced pressure quite like this.

Being unbeaten, making that first trip in years to the eight-team state tournament, trying for the first title in 17 years — that's a lot to think about. So, the Huskies would be well-advised to not think, just play.

All the factors involved with this scenario is enough to get in the heads of any 16- or 17-year-old.

But, being unbeaten through 23 games, the first 15 weeks of the season, delivers one message over any other: Highland is good enough to beat anyone in 2A.

In fact, the Huskies already have beaten tonight's opponent once, topping Akron 62-44 on Jan. 20 in Ault.

If Highland can replicate that performance against the Rams and continue playing in this tournament just like it has all season, the Huskies could bring a title back to Ault for the first time in nearly two decades.

3 Can Briggsdale rely on its experience from a year ago?

Although four of the eight teams in the 1A girls field were in last year's state tournament, arguably none have the experience on a player-by-player basis the Falcons have.

With a sophomore-heavy squad last year, the Falcons were the state runner-up behind Idalia. Seven of the nine upperclassmen from this year's roster were on that varsity roster last year, with most playing key roles.

Idalia had a down year this winter and didn't make it back to the state tournament, leaving Briggsdale as the only team among these eight that has players with state title game experience.

The Falcons also played in the semifinals in 2014 and had one current player on that team, Leilah Johnson, who is now the team's only senior.

And, then there were three

» Who: No. 5 Windsor Wizards (20-6), No. 5 Highland Huskies (23-0) and No. 5 Briggsdale Falcons (18-5)

» What: Class 1A-4A Girls/Boys Basketball Championships

» When: Today through Saturday

» Where: 1A is at Bank of Colorado Arena, University of Northern Colorado’s west campus. 2A is at the Budweiser Events Center, 5290 Arena Circle, in Loveland. 4A is at the Denver Coliseum, 4600 Humboldt St., in Denver. Note: The 1A championships games will be held at the Budweiser Events Center, along with the 2A title games, on Saturday

» Today’s matchups: Briggsdale takes on No. 4 South Baca (19-3) at 8:45 a.m.. Windsor faces No. 1 Pueblo South (24-2) at 5:30 p.m. Highland matches up with No. 4 Akron (18-5) at 8:30 p.m.