Off to a hot start

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  • Lee Walburn puts up a floater against Polson last Tuesday. (Bob Gunderson photo)

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    Dillon Botner gets the layup against the Pirates last Tuesday. (Bob Gunderson photo)

  • Lee Walburn puts up a floater against Polson last Tuesday. (Bob Gunderson photo)

  • 1

    Dillon Botner gets the layup against the Pirates last Tuesday. (Bob Gunderson photo)

The Bulldogs have already surpassed last year’s win total with three straight victories to start the season.

Whitefish took down Polson, Hamilton and Stevensville in the first week of basketball.

A strong second half propelled the Dogs last Tuesday in the opener versus the Pirates. After trailing 27-26 at the half, Lee Walburn scored 20 of his 22 points to give his team the 64-56 victory.

Whitefish was 20 of 35 shooting at the free throw line.

Then on Friday the team fought hard for a 71-65 overtime win over the Hamilton Broncs.

Walburn again broke 20 points, with the biggest of his 24 points coming from behind the three-point line with less than 10 seconds to go in regulation. That shot put the game into overtime, where the Bulldogs secured an early lead and held the win by hitting 12 of 14 from the free throw line.

The team was an outstanding 25 for 30 from the line in the game. Also reaching double figures were Justin Conklin with 13 and Dillon Botner with 12.

The Dogs ended the week with a 74-65 win over Stevensville on Saturday.

While his team hasn’t been perfect to start the season, head coach Scott Smith said intensity has been the main ingredient in the first few games.

“We played with pretty good intensity both Tuesday against Polson and Friday against Hamilton. Saturday we didn’t play with great intensity but we were still able to get a win, which is good,” he said. “We’re making some mistakes, but like I told the kids if you play with intensity you can make a few more mistakes, and that’s kind of what we’re doing. We need to cut back on our turnovers, cut back on little things. We’ll do it [right] when we’re fresh but as soon as we get tired we forget some of the mental aspects of the game.”

Part of that intensity has been rebounding the ball. Smith said while rebounding has gotten a bit sloppy at the end of the game when fatigue sets in, for the most part his team’s ability to grab boards has been a big help.

“We’ve done a great job of boxing out for the first three games. We’ve kind of eliminated other teams getting second chance shots, and that’s helped us quite a bit,” he said.

Likewise, he was extremely impressed with how his team has been shooting free throws, especially against Hamilton.

Free throws were the difference in overtime, Smith said.

“Our free throws were unbelievable, which really helped out. We jumped out to a four-point lead right off the bat, we made a couple of quick buckets in overtime and we were able to hold them off defensively. They had to foul us and down the stretch we made our free throws,” he said.

This week the Bulldogs host Libby on Friday before traveling to Browning on Saturday. Friday’s game will be at 6 p.m. at Whitefish High School.

Each matchup presents different challenges for the team, Smith said, starting with Libby’s sharpshooter Ryggs Johnston.

“He’s one of the best players in the state and he can shoot it from anywhere on the court,” Smith said. “We allowed way too many open looks for a similar kid from Hamilton and the same thing against a kid from Stevensville, we’re letting them get too many open looks. We have to make sure we’re aware of where he is on the floor at all times and then we’ve got to make the rest of the teams beat us.”

Against Browning we’ve just got to handle the pressure,” he added. “They’re going to be up in your face and grabbing and slapping and we’ve got to be ready for that. If we’re not playing controlled basketball, it could get ugly in a hurry for us.”

Whitefish 14 12 18 20 — 64

Polson 14 13 12 17 — 56

WHITEFISH — Dodie Smith 4, Justin Conklin 1, Jack Schwaiger 7, Danni Davis 1, Sam Menicke 6, Jace Cripe 8, Ryan Kemm 1, Lee Walburn 22, Dillon Botner 14.

Hamilton 13 6 18 19 9 — 65

Whitefish 13 13 12 18 15 — 71

WHITEFISH — Bodie Smith 5, Justin Conklin 13, Mark Anderson 6, Sam Menicke 2, Ryan Kemm 9, Lee Walburn 24, Dillon Botner 12.

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