ARLEE — Isaac Fisher collected a pass from a teammate after a steal, drove down the lane and was going to score a layup.
As he was ascending toward the rim, the Arlee captain who had been working on his confidence decided to go for a dunk, which put the two-time defending state champions up 12-0 and ignited the crowd.
Fisher stuffed the stat sheet on a career-high scoring night as the new-look, short-handed Warriors rode a stingy defense to a 76-29 home win over Hot Springs.
“He’s getting way more confident,” Arlee head coach Zanen Pitts said. “He had three plays that looked like college plays where he was aggressive with the ball, and you see that on his dunk.”
Fisher finished with a career-high 25 points, taking high-percentage shots around the rim off passes from teammates and dishing out one assist himself. The 6-foot-9 senior picked up easy buckets by grabbing eight rebounds and converting offensive ones into second-chance points.
Fisher made his defensive presence known with five blocks, all in the second half, to go with his three steals.
“First couple games, I had slow starts, so I wasn’t too good,” Fisher said. “I’m starting to feel it coming on with confidence. I just had to relax and slow down on the court. Earlier, I was too nervous and moving too fast.”
Arlee, which has gone with a different starting lineup all four games, came into the season needing players to take on new roles because former standouts Philip Malatare and Will Mesteth are now playing in college. They were the only two seniors on last year’s undefeated team, but they carried the group that outscored its opponents by 40.4 points per game.
The level of urgency for players to step up increased when all-state senior Lane Johnson went down with an ankle injury in the second game of the season, which Arlee lost to Rocky Boy, snapping a 48-game win streak that went back to December 2016. Pitts doesn’t expect Johnson back until January at the earliest, requiring others like Fisher to rise to the occasion.
“He’s a captain and one of the boys they look up to,” Pitts said. “In the past, playing with gunslingers like Philip and Will, he developed a facilitator role. You’re starting to see him step up where he knows he can take over. It’s fun to watch him.”
With Johnson sidelined, all-state senior Greg Whitesell has had to run the point. He tallied 19 points, seven steals, six assists and two rebounds against Hot Springs.
Cody Tanner came off the bench to add 14 points, three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Dar Bolen paced the team with seven assists to go with his eight rebounds, six points and two steals.
The Warriors upped their lead to 18-6 in the first quarter and led by double digits the rest of the way. They were up 43-16 at the half and led by as many as 50 points, 74-24.
“One of our big weaknesses was we’ve been complacent in some games,” Pitts said. “We rebounded well, and the energy on the defensive side was finally more appealing.”
Hot Springs senior Tyler Knudsen led the team with 10 points, six rebounds and one steal.
The Savage Heat had the ball stolen 17 times by Arlee’s full-court press defense and made just eight field goals.
“They look exactly the same as past years,” Hot Springs head coach Cameron Barber said of Arlee’s defense. “It was tough to run our regular offense with all their pressure and traps.”
Scarlets 49, Hot Springs 26
In the girls’ game, Arlee raced out to a 36-6 halftime lead and never looked back in a 49-26 win over Hot Springs to improve to 2-2.
Scarlets senior Alyssia Vanderburg scored a game-high 16 points on her 18th birthday. Fellow senior Louetta Conko-Camel added 13 points.
Hot Springs was paced by Katelyn Christensen, who scored 13 points.