Rock Canyon, Regis Jesuit meet in rematch in Class 6A boys Great 8

On Saturday at the Denver Coliseum, Rock Canyon’s making its fifth Great 8 appearance in coach Kent Grams’ 11-year tenure as the program continues to assert itself as a big-school basketball force.

Nevermind that this year’s Jaguars have perhaps the least amount of star power of any Class 6A team left. That’s just fine with Grams, who believes Rock Canyon’s lack of a primary creator on offense has made everyone on the roster better, and ready for a deep run through the toughest rounds of the tournament.

“It’s been refreshing and rejuvenating coaching this team, because it’s about everybody buying into their role and doing what they need to do to make us great,” Grams said. “We have to play completely unselfish, because we don’t have that one guy we can lean on for the bulk of the scoring.”

Upper Iowa commit Gavin Hershberger leads Rock Canyon at 16.9 points per game, while senior wing Aidan Peck (13.1) and junior guard Mac Terry (11.3) also pace the offense heading into the rematch against Regis Jesuit. Rock Canyon beat the Raiders in a Continental League thriller on Jan. 20 in Aurora, when Terry hit a buzzer-beating jumper to lift the Jaguars to a 59-57 victory.

Grams said that while victory in a hostile road environment was a highlight, he knows the Jaguars have another battle on their hands Saturday against coach Ken Shaw and Regis Jesuit, which also features three scorers averaging double-digits.

“I have so much respect for Coach Shaw, and the tradition he’s built and maintained over there,” Grams said. “Regis is obviously really good, and they’ve got some players we’ve struggled to guard, including TaRea Fulcher for a few years now.”

In January, Rock Canyon kept Fulcher in check in the first half, but he exploded in the second half to finish with 20 points. And Fulcher is coming off the biggest moment of his career, as the senior point guard ripped off seven points in the final minute of the Raiders’ 65-62 comeback over Highlands Ranch in the Sweet 16, including the game-winning three on a running shot at the buzzer.

“(Fulcher) is about as good as any point guard in the state,” Ken Shaw said. “The spark he gives us, and the clutch plays he’s made this year, has been critical to getting us here.”

With that in mind, Grams and the Jaguars won’t be resting on their laurels Saturday, especially after Rock Canyon saw a nine-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate in the last matchup.

“They’ve been down in the fourth quarter at times this year, and they find ways to win,” Grams said. “So we’ve got to be able to handle (their surges), and keep our composure through those tough moments where their role players are stepping up, just like ours can.”

The only team to beat Rock Canyon (23-2) is Continental League champion Mountain Vista. The Golden Eagles downed their rivals 52-51 on Dec. 3, and then 62-52 on Feb. 2. But besides that, the Jaguars have been untouchable.

Rock Canyon went to the Final Four twice, in 2017 and ’18, but has never played for a championship.

“Our goal is to definitely win the state championship, and to get that, we have to have all 12 guys bought in,” Hershberger said. “At any point, anybody could (deliver an individual performance) to win us a game at the Coliseum.”

Regis Jesuit, meanwhile, three-peated in Class 5A from 2009-11, but hasn’t been back to the top since. Shaw, in his 16th year at Regis Jesuit and 48th overall in Colorado, said his Raiders are ready for a push at the Coliseum after falling in the Sweet 16 last year.

“We were a little inconsistent early on in the season,” Shaw said. “We were right with Rock Canyon earlier in the year, and with Mountain Vista too. We feel like we can play with both those teams, and we’re starting to play consistent basketball. When we do that, we can play with anybody, even though out of the eight teams left we’re probably the smallest team.”

In a meeting of the new guard versus the old on the sideline, the 39-year-old Grams said Rock Canyon’s success on Saturday “is not about out-coaching Coach Shaw,” who is 71. Shaw, owner of five state titles overall, is making his 30th career Great 8 appearance.

“It’s more about sticking with the basics that got us here,” Grams said. “We talked about building a foundation, and everyone on the roster needs to be a craftsman while we try to paint a masterpiece.”

Rock Canyon-Regis Jesuit is one of of three rematches in the 6A Great 8, with Mountain Vista versus Valor Christian and Fossil Ridge versus Fort Collins the others. Mountain Vista beat Valor Christian 75-66 in non-league action on Jan. 10, and Fort Collins beat Fossil Ridge 55-52 on Jan. 31 in a Front Range League battle. Smoky Hill plays Denver East in the other Great 8 game.

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