When push came to shove Tuesday night -- and it certainly did -- Billings West leaned on its big men for a big win over Billings Senior.
The heat of the day's record-high temperature (62) spilled into the jam-packed West High gym, where the Golden Bears won 63-55 in a heated, back-and-forth battle with the cross-town rival Broncs.
The threesome of Danny Robison, Brady Gustafson and Sesar Bonilla combined for 35 points and 31 rebounds as West won its 21st straight home game and improved to 12-4 overall and 5-3 in the Eastern AA boys basketball standings.
"We knew we had to rebound to win, and we couldn't do it," said Senior coach Jim Stergar, whose team was outrebounded 45-29. "We believe we are one of the best defensive teams in the state, but we just don't have an answer for the two 6-foot-7 kids (Robison and Gustafson).
"They're long and athletic, and they did a great job. They made the big plays when they had to down the stretch, and they got the big rebounds."
West controlled the game early, using their size advantage inside and five first-half 3-pointers to build a 36-22 halftime lead.
But Senior (11-6, 4-5) roared back, holding the Bears to three points in the third quarter to close to within four points (39-35) on Blair Monson's NBA-range 3-pointer from the left wing with six seconds left in the quarter.
"We knew Senior would make a run at some point," said Bonilla, who finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. "It's Senior-West ... you know it's going to be close. We just needed to get back to getting the ball in to our big guys like we did in the first half."
West did that to start the fourth quarter, opening with a 5-0 run that included a basket in the post by Joel Feneis and a steal and layup by Bonilla.
But the Broncs did not go quietly. A Monson 3-pointer -- the first of four he made in the fourth quarter -- followed by a steal and breakaway dunk by Scotty Owens cut West's lead to 44-40.
After two Robison free throws, Senior's Johnny Nielsen hit Danny Desin with a perfect pass for a layup to make it 46-42 with 3:54 left.
But West took over from there. Unable to secure rebounds on either end of the floor, the Broncs were forced to foul to buy time. West made them pay, hitting 16 of 25 free throws in the fourth quarter and scoring their final 13 points from the line.
"Our kids did a good job of shaking off that third quarter and getting it going again in the fourth," said West coach Doug Robison. "We got the ball inside and did what we needed to do.
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"What a tremendous atmosphere for these kids to play in. Games like this are the ones they'll remember for the rest of their lives ... with a great crowd like that and being able to beat a good opponent."
In typical Senior-West fashion, tempers flared on the court several times in the second half.
On West's first offensive trip of the half, Bonilla crashed hard to the floor after being fouled by Owens and Chase Boyd on a layup attempt. The foul looked worse than it was -- as Bonilla was already falling off-balance before contact was made -- but it raised the temperature in the building a few degrees.
At one point in the fourth quarter, Bonilla turned and glared at Owens after Owens committed a foul while knocking the ball away from Bonilla. In the end, though, cooler heads prevailed -- and Owens and Bonilla shared a brief hug as the teams shook hands after the game.
"That's just Senior-West," smiled Bonilla outside the Bears' locker room. "We've been playing against each other since grade school ... those things are going to happen. I expected it.
"There were a couple of times I had to take a deep breath to calm down a little bit, but it's not like the game was out of control."
"It's a great rivalry," added Danny Robison. "You know it's always going to be a battle against Senior. When Scotty got that dunk, you could tell that definitely got the crowd back into it."
Robison led West with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Bonilla added 12 points, Gustafson nine and Parker Swenson eight. Gustafson also had nine rebounds.
Owens led Senior with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and his night included one astonishing play in the second quarter.
With West trailing 34-17 with 1:24 left in the half, Owens missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw. As the ball bounced straight up above the rim, Robison and Gustafson went up for the rebound -- only to see the 5-foot-10 Owens soar between them and above them -- to tip in his own missed free throw.
Monson added 15 points and Desin 10 for the Broncs.
On Friday night, Senior hosts winless Butte while West hosts Great Falls CMR. At 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, West hosts Great Falls High in a key battle for second and third place in the Eastern AA.
NOTES: West guard Alex Gallagher suffered a fractured thumb in last Tuesday's game at Miles City. Doug Robison said Gallagher could be out for the season, adding that there's a chance he could return for the state tournament. ... West has now won 15 of the last 16 against Senior and leads the overall series 73-50. ... West is 53-4 in its last 57 games against Billings teams. ... Senior won the JV game, handing West its third loss of the season and back-to-back losses (including Saturday's loss at Bozeman) for the first time since the 2002-03 season.