While the Thayer Bobcats plan to shake things up a bit on the offensive end of the basketball court this season by employing more of an up-tempo attack than they have used in the recent past, it looks as though it will business as usual on the defensive end of the hardwood for the Cats in the 2005/06 season.
Fueled by a defensive effort that was every bit the kind that the Bobcats used in piling up 26 wins last year, Thayer advanced to the finals of the Cabool Holiday Tournament by blowing the doors off the Belle Tigers, 63-30, in the semi-final round Dec. 29.
The top-seeded Bobcats, switching between man-to-man and a shifting matchup zone, held the Tigers without a field goal in the third period, and to just three in the entire second half of play.
As a matter of fact, Belle looked somewhat apprehensive about shooting the ball at all in the first period of play. The Tigers got the ball in the lane on several occasions and either looked to pass it back out or seemed too afraid of having their shoot rejected to even attempt a shot.
Thayer however, had no such qualms about shooting the rock.
John Tollenaar had a big first half for the Bobcats by tossing in 17 of his game-high 21 in the first two periods of play, and coming within eight points of outscoring Belle by himself on the night.
When Tollenaar wasn't finding a soft spot in the Belle defense and slicing to the hoop for point-blank hoops, the Bobcats were throwing the ball over the top of the Tigers' defense for fast-break layups.
Brett Ward (12 points) also found the baseline to his liking in the first period, as he hit for six points in the frame.
Tollenaar posted Thayer's last six points of the first, helping his squad to a 21-8 lead after one.
The second period was by far the most productive stanza of the night for Belle.
The Tigers logged 15 points in the period, and got as close as 11 points to Thayer's lead.
Layne Hawkins (12 points) ended the first half of play in fine fashion for Thayer by banging in a 3-ball at the buzzer to keep the Bobcats in control 38-23.
What little hope the Tigers mustered in the second disappeared in a flash in the third period.
Thayer reeled off the first eight points of the third to take a 46-23 lead before the Tigers found the scoreboard for the lone time in the frame, thanks to a pair of free throws.
The Cats ended the third with six unanswered points to take a commanding 52-24 advantage into the final frame.
Allowing the Tigers just seven points in the second half of play, the Bobcats punched their ticket to the championship game with a 33-point rout of Belle.
M.J. Clark tallied seven points for Thayer, while Jacob Sims had six, Blake Horton three, and Eric Veatch two.
In the quarterfinals, the Bobcats were matched up with the high-flying Crocker Lions, a team that goes 12 players deep and likes to run, run, run and run some more. This was evident in the Lions' 90-80 win over Summersville on the tournament's opening day.
Nevertheless, Thayer (4-0) showed it could get up and down the floor with ease as well, as the Cats ran past the Lions 85-68 Dec. 28.
The game was knotted at 20-all after the first period before Thayer opened up some breathing room with a nine-point lead in the second.
Crocker refused to give in and by the time halftime rolled around, the Lions trailed by just one, 41-40, at intermission.
Despite having three players tagged with four fouls each in the third period, the Bobcats began to put the game on ice. An old-fashioned 3-point play by Clark (12 points) at the buzzer gave the Bobcats a 64-55 advantage after three.
Thayer went on to outscore Crocker 43-28 over the last two periods of play en route to a 17-point blowout.
Hawkins paced Thayer with a game-high 24 points, with Ward adding 22. Sims had 10, Veatch nine, and Tollenaar eight for the Bobcats.