So far so good for the Yuma High School boys basketball team.

The Indians are 2-0 heading into the Topside Tipoff in Goodland, Kansas, today through Saturday, after claiming the Canine Classic title last weekend at Highland High School in Ault.

Yuma is looking to make a significant step this season after failing to advance past the first game of district in the last two campaigns. The early returns indicate the Indians might be ready for that step.

They enjoyed a blowout in Friday’s season opener, 87-46, over Dawson, and then had to gut out a 59-56 win over a salty Highland squad, on the Huskies’ homecourt, in the Canine Classic finale, Saturday afternoon.

“The team has taken many steps from last season,” Sheffield said. “The first night allowed us to just get out and take care of a team from the jump. On the second night against Highland they had to weather some adversity when everything wasn’t clicking and finished a close game. There were some signs of who we are and also allowed a look at areas where we need to grow.”

Connor Hixon reached out a layup against Highland last Saturday in the Canine Classic championship game in Ault. (Dave Gustafson)

The Indians now face the challenge of advancing through the bracket in the always rough-and-tumble Topside in Kansas. They open tourney play Thursday afternoon against Norton, Kansas, at 2 p.m. Goodland and Burlington also are on their side of the bracket, playing today at 8 p.m. The other side features Wallace County, Kansas, and Colby, Kansas, as well as Wray and McCook, Nebraska.

Win or lose today, the Indians play at 8 p.m. Friday. Potential game times Saturday range from 1 p.m. for the seventh-place game to 7 p.m. for the championship.

All games are at the Max Jones Field House, either on the main gym or in the adjacent junior high gym. Yuma’s first game is in the junior high gym.

“Topside is a tournament with quality competition, and it provides a three-games-in-three-night format, which can test teams in many ways in the early season,” Sheffield said. “We have a good match-up with Norton in the first round. They won the Topside last year and will provide a strong test for us.”

Yuma returned all but one player from last year’s team, and welcomed back 6-foot-7 junior Jake Chrisman after he missed last season to injury.

All the experience was on display immediately in the season opener. The Indians had easily beat Dawson last year in the same game, but it was Dawson that eventually advanced to regional. The Indians enjoyed an even more dominating performance last Friday.

They came out pushing the pace on offense, combined with aggressive defensive pressure. The result was a quick lead that grew into a 22-7 advantage by the end of the first quarter.

Yuma got even more offensive in the second, scoring 27 points for a dominating 49-21 lead by halftime.

Scoring had been a constant issue for the Indians in recent seasons, so being on pace for nearly 100 points in the first half of the opener was a significant development. Sheffield attributed it to both the faster pace and aggressive defense.

Chadron Coffield dribbles upcourt against Dawson in the first round of the Canine Classic, last Friday in Ault. (Dave Gustafson)

“We got some easy points in transition by capitalizing on their turnovers,” he said. “We shared the ball well in our first game which allowed for some isolated looks.”

They topped the 20-point mark again in the third quarter, scoring 21 points, before “settling” for 17 in the fourth. They outscored Dawson 38-25 in the second half for the 41-point victory. Sheffield emptied the bench as all 12 players saw court time, and 10 scored.

Yuma enjoyed one of its best shooting games in years, hitting 58 percent from the floor, including eight-of-15 behind the 3-point arc (53.3 percent). The Indians’ aggressiveness getting to the basket resulted in frequent trips to the charity stripe, where they made 21 of 37. They also dominated on the boards, outrebounding Dawson 47-28, and recorded 17 assists and 13 steals.

Diego Covarrubias led four players scoring in double figures with 20 points, seven rebounds, four steals and three assists, while had Chrisman 15 points, seven rebounds, and four steals, Victor Mendoza 15 points and three assists, Steven Wells 12 points and four rebounds, Jonathan Rascon eight points and five rebounds, Jesus Vasquez seven points, two assists and two steals, Chase McCreath four points and four rebounds, Chadron Coffield three points and four rebounds, Bryan Mendez two points, four rebounds and three assists, Connor Hixon one point, four assists and three rebounds, Preston Blach three rebounds, and Rolando Caraveo one assist.

Highland had cruised to a big win its Friday game, as well, setting up a rematch of last year’s Canine Classic championship game. The Huskies dominated that contest. They lost several players from that team, which went on to place third at the 2A state tournament. However, the Huskies still possess enough size, ball handling and sharp shooting from beyond the arc to remain a threat in their league this season.

That said, Yuma continued its torrid pace early in Saturday’s game, utilizing its high-energy attack for a 9-0 lead. Highland battled back to within four, 14-10, but the Indians led 18-10 at the end of the first quarter, and scored the first eight points in the second for a 26-10 lead.

Highland responded with a 10-2 run to pull within 28-20. Yuma pushed its lead back to as high as 14, but a foul called on a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer allowed Highland to score three at the free throw line, trimming Yuma’s lead to nine, 34-25, at halftime.

The Indians were struggling a bit with misses on several close-range shots, and also got a little sloppy protecting the ball. Plus, Highland got hot behind the arc, eventually taking a 39-38 lead.

Jesus Vasquez gets to the basket for a shot against Highland, last Saturday in the title game of the Canine Classic in Ault. (Dave Gustafson)

On the bright side, the situation afforded the Indians their first test of the season in regards to stepping up to the challenge.

Instead of folding, the Indians regained the lead, and Covarrubias’ 3-pointer at the buzzer staked the Indians to a 47-43 lead heading into the fourth.

A Highland 3-pointer tied it at 49, but Chrisman’s free throws and a Hixon layup gave yuma a 53-49 lead. It was 55-54 when Mendez scored four straight for a 59-54 lead late in the fourth. Highland cut it to 59-56.

Mendoza went to the charity stripe twice in the last 15 seconds, missing the front end of one-and-ones both times. However, he came up with a steal both times after missing the free throws to seal the victory.

It was only fitting defensive plays secured the win as the Indians had some great defensive sequences down the stretch with the game on the line.

“It was a gut check,” Sheffield agreed. “We didn’t take care of the ball very well against Highland. When we have that many turnovers it will allow teams to hang around. The positive from the game is that they finished a tight one. As the season is a journey, this game gave us a look at some situations that we need to seal up for this upcoming weekend.
“When things were on the line they executed like we needed to overall to close out the game,” he added.

The Indians did struggle protecting the ball, committing 27 turnovers, but otherwise had a solid effort. The shot 46.8 percent from the floor, and still made five of 12 3-point attempts (41.7 percent). They held a 37-26 rebounding advantage, and recorded 16 steals.

Chrisman battled inside for a double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds, along with three steals. Covarrubias had 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, Hixon 10 points, four steals and three rebounds, Mendoza nine points, seven rebounds, three blocks and three steals, Mendez six points and three rebounds, Vasquez two points, four rebounds and two steals, and Coffield three rebounds.

The Yuma High School boys basketball team poses with its trophy after winning the Canine Classic, last Saturday in Ault. (Dave Gustafson)