March madness in Alpine

Junior Cailen Bond averaged 9.6 points per game this season after transferring from North Lake Junior College last year. 

March madness comes early to Alpine as Sul Ross hosts their conference championship for the second time in three years beginning Feb. 27. Four quarterfinal matchups in a row, starting at noon, will culminate with Louisiana College taking on the Lobos at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.

Many seniors from eight different teams will play their last organized basketball game ever on the floor of the Pete Gallego Center this week. An at-large bid to the Division III NCAA Tournament next month is a hard ask for anyone in the American Southwest Conference this year. That means only the champion, after three straight wins in three days in Alpine, will likely be heading to the big dance.

The Lobos won the Western Division for the third time in head coach Clif Carroll's five year tenure at Sul Ross. It’s already a run of success not seen on Hancock Hill since the early 2000’s when the 2004 team made it to the sweet 16 of the NCAA Championship.

Tournament veterans from the 2018 ASC champions, B.J. Hollis, Tristen Licon and others, have been joined by junior transfers Cailen Bond and Logan Dixon to create an attacking team that shoots a lot of three pointers. Hitting almost half his shot attempts, Licon finished fifth in the league in scoring this season while Dixon and Hollis both cracked the top 20. Bond can also put up points but is among the ASC leaders in blocked shots and steals.

One wild card for the Lobos is their big man Brayden Fry. He has recently returned from a fractured hand to play a few minutes and get a few buckets over the last two weeks. When healthy, the 6’9” forward is a big low-post presence for a Sul Ross roster that is on the short side.

Unlike the three teams in the Eastern Division who finished neck and neck with the 13-3 Lobos, Sul Ross has gotten no national love in the South Regional rankings. East Texas Baptist, LeTourneau and UT-Dallas were all in the top ten last week and Dallas is ranked 29th in America according to d3hoops.com.

The difference is that the Lobos were 3-6 in non-conference play early on this season and finished 16-9 overall compared to 20 game winners from the East. They face a potential semifinal matchup with LeTourneau and the clear ASC player of the year, Nate West, on Friday. The senior  averaged over 25 points per game and led the conference in assists and three pointers this season.

Losses to Trinity and Schreiner in December weren’t acceptable according to Carroll. But narrow defeats to Illinois Wesleyan and the No. 11 team in the country, North Central, Illinois, helped launch a conference run in 2020 that included an eight game winning streak.

If they get past the top notch defense of Louisiana College in round one, Sul Ross will likely have to take down two ranked teams to win their second ASC crown in three years. Home court advantage means the world to them.

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