HELENA — The Helena Capital High boys basketball team may be one of the hottest teams coming into the AA state championship basketball game.

One recent loss the Bruins suffered was to top-ranked Missoula Hellgate in the Western Division title game.

The Bruins, who won't play Hellgate unless they make it the championship game, will play Billings West at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Butte Civic Center to begin the tournament.

"I think momentum is just another word for confidence," Bruins coach Guy Almquist said. "Our team is a confident group and the slate is clean. Whoever plays the best basketball in the next 72 hours will be the winner."

Capital is prepared to face a Billings West team that likes to play at a high tempo.

"Billings West is a high-paced team and likes to get out in transition," Almquist said. "We are going to have to get back in transition, protect the key and force them out of the paint. Those will be some of the keys for us to win our first round at state."

Almquist emphasized playing with a lot of passion, and Brady Martin and his teammates have really bought into Almquist's fundamental approach.

"We are playing with a ton of passion, and at this point of the year, we are just flowing," Martin said. "Everything is flowing for us."

The recent close games they've played at the Western AA Divisional tournament have helped them prepare the state atmosphere.

"Most of the games (our team) has played have been competitive and down to the wire," Martin said. "Playing those close games has really helped us get ready for state."

Guard Bridger Grovom feels his eam is peaking at the right time.

"We are just playing with a lot of confidence right now," Grovom said. "We are working hard, have executed well on offense and rebounded the ball."

Almquist knows West likes to run, and he knows his Bruins must ensure they don't let them get out in transition.

"We are going to have to take care of our transition defense," Almquist said. "We are going to have to play consistent basketball, and we can't have a six to eight minute lull. We've been reading our press clippings too much. We have to get back to rebounding and doing some of the fundamental things that will allow us to win because we will be having teams come at us hard all during the state tournament."

The Bruins are still learning what it takes to play tournament basketball, which is a different pace than they are used to during the regular season. 

"Tournament basketball is different," Almquist said. "It's a different type of pressure, and our kids have to get ready for three straight days in a row. We learned a valuable lesson at divisionals in that regard."

Bengals impact

Helena senior guard Connor Murgel and  his six other senior teammates want to carry on their playing careers together as long as they possibly can as they enter the first round at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Butte Civic Center against Bozeman.

The senior-heavy team isn't just happy to make the tournament. The Bengals aspire to make an impact.

"You know we are happy to be at state, and we are satisfied because whenever you can get to state, it is a good thing," Murgel said. "Obviously, you want to be the top seed entering the tournament. Bozeman will be a tough match up, but that doesn't scare us away. We are looking forward to the challenge ahead, and are excited."

The Bengals lost to Bozeman 70-50 in their only meeting Dec. 7. They hope to learn from the experience as they have embraced the underdog role.

"Our team loves the underdog role," Murgel said. "No one expects us to do anything, and that's how it's been all season. Because of the low expectations, there is no pressure on our shooters or no pressure for us to do anything. We have a great chance to come out there and compete at our highest level, pull off the upset and keep it rolling."

Bozeman's top rebounder and player Ryan Lonergan should present a significant challenge to them.

"Bozeman has great shooters, length and they get after it on the boards," Murgel said. "They are pretty well-rounded, and very solid on the defensive end. In our last game, they got the best of us."

That is why Murgel wants the Bengals to get back to playing their brand of basketball like they did in their two Western AA Divisional victories over Glacier and Flathead.

"We have to get back to playing Bengal basketball," Murgel said. "When we play physical, we are taking charges, are on the boards and just not backing down. Playing defense is a mentality, and we have to want it more. We have to get back to what we did well in the divisional tournament to be successful at the state tournament."

Jason Blasco is the lead prep sports reporter for the Helena Indepedent-Record and a sports reporter for the 406mtsports.com network.

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