PINE RIVER -- The Pine River-Backus Tigers boys' basketball team is ranked 10th in Class AA and is enjoying one of its best seasons.
The Tigers are 2-0 in the Park Region Conference, 10-2 overall, and they're hoping to win their third straight conference championship.
Under the direction of Bob Nelson the Tigers have a complete basketball team with height, speed and depth. That's a luxury that wasn't present the last two years when the Tigers made it to the Section 7AA championship game.
"The last couple of years we haven't had a lot of height and we haven't been real deep either so that's really nice about this year," starting guard Joe Bueckers said. "We know we can rotate people and that's really nice because with our style of running and gunning it's really important to be deep so that you have guys that can come in fresh."
The starting back court of Adam Nelson (9.9 points per game, 54 assists, 28 steals, 4.0 rebounds per game) and Bueckers (14.2 ppg, 36 assists, 28 steals and 3.5 rpg) each have three years of varsity experience and are leading a talented Tiger team that is looking to get past the section.
"We've really improved since the beginning of the year," said Bueckers. "That loss at North Dakota (69-65 in overtime to Northern Cass on Dec. 18 at the Fargodome) has really helped us out in the long run.
"We dropped a tough one at the Christmas tournament (52-48 to Moose Lake-Willow River) but we didn't shoot very well."
With 6-foot-5 Justin Kelly (14.1 ppg, 10 blocks, 8.1 rpg) manning the post along with 6-3 Ross Kleiner (7.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) the Tigers have the ability to score from anywhere on the court.
Junior forward Micah Johnson (9 ppg, 3.1 rpg) completes the starting rotation that's filled with talent, experience and leadership.
"We had a really good year our sophomore year but we were young," Bueckers said. "Being a senior all that experience has really paid off. Hopefully we can put all that together."
The Tigers are outrebounding their opponents 34.9 to 30.7. They're shooting 40.9 percent from the field and their stifling defense is holding opponents to 34.4.
They've outscored their opponents in every quarter with their largest totals in the second and third quarters at almost 18 points per quarter. They've outscored their opponents 694-484.
Being ranked in the state, the Tigers aren't surprising anyone except themselves.
"I'm surprised we only have two losses this year," said Bueckers. "We're deep this year but we haven't had a lot of varsity experience out of all the players. We should have a couple losses by now but I'm most surprised about how well we have all been playing as a team."
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