On the first possession of the game, Frost’s Kobe Hailey took a pass in traffic and banked in an inside shot.
The message was sent that early, just that quickly and that dramatically Thursday night.
Frost was coming inside.
And Blum could do nothing about it.
By the time it was over, Frost had scored 40 points in the paint, and Blum staggered out of the Whitney High gym, looking up at a 69-44 loss to the Polar Bears, who didn’t just win the Class 1A DII Area round game to advance to the regional quarterfinals in the state playoffs, they won it with a statement.
“I know there were some people who doubted this team,’’ said Coach Eric Blenden, who lost three starters including All-Golden Circle Player of the Year Daniel Steels from his regional finalist team a year ago. “There was some doubt about this team, but hats off to them. Hopefully, tonight they ended some of the doubt. Maybe they didn’t put all the doubt away, but they made Frost proud.’’
There was no doubt left from Blum (15-9), which never led.
“They are a real good team,’’ Blum Coach John McFarlin said. “They just executed. They are very fundamentally sound and they know how to exploit your weaknesses. That’s what they did to us. I’ve known Eric for many years. He’s a real good coach.’’
Blenden has his young Polar Bears rolling. They’ve won two playoff games by a total of 70 points, beating Milford 64-29 on Monday and hammering Blum by 25 in the second round of the playoffs.
That was Frost’s 20th win of the season, and the Bears have won 10 of their last 11 games, literally getting better and better at just the right time.
They out-rebounded Blum 2-to-1 and the Bears were shooting 60 percent when Blenden emptied his bench in the fourth. Of course, the Bears made sure they got high-percentage shots all night going inside time and time again with drives to the basket and putbacks — and those highlight tape beauties, those drives and dishes, pretty assists inside that racked up points all night long.
But this game was won on the defensive side of the court, where Frost just smothered the Bobcats all night long.
“I thought we played a great game defensively,’’ said Blenden, who has been looking for this kind of defensive effort. “I really don’t know how good we are. Tonight, we really ratcheted up the defense.’’
They did, forcing 17 turnovers.
After building a 46-31 lead after three quarters, the Bears stepped it up another notch in the fourth and didn’t allow Blum to score a point until Jarred Shaffer, who led Blum with 17 points, hit a pair of free throws with 3:12 left in the game.
“We just wanted it more than they did,’’ said Belcher, who scored 19 points and ran the offense all night. “We were ready. We were intense. We wanted it more and we got it.’’
Hailey led the way with 21 points and Zach Terry, who was a nightmare for Blum in the paint, grabbed a dozen rebounds and dropped in 15 points. Robert Worley finished with five points, including a 3 at the buzzer to end the first with a 17-8 lead, and Ryan Worley finished with four. Colton Clayton, who led Frost with 20 against Milford in the playoff opener, finished with four points. But that’s been the story all season at Frost, where everyone is averaging around 9-to-11 points a game and know one knows who will lead the Polar Bears from night to night — and no one cares.
What they do care about is this: They’re on their way to the regional quarterfinals, where they face the winner of Friday’s Avalon-Lingleville game.
“Winning this game means a lot,’’ Belcher said. “We’re headed to the next round and we want to get to regionals and then state. That’s the plan.’’
It’s a great plan.
No doubt about that.