GREAT FALLS -- First there was Brandon The Boy. Then came Phillip, the man.
But the Arlee Warriors ran into Box Elder, the team, on Saturday night.
A heroic showing by Arlee's Phillip Malatare wasn't enough as the Bears claimed their second State C boys' basketball championship in three seasons, 95-73, at a packed Four Seasons Arena.
With Box Elder scoring at will in the second half, Arlee's Malatare went basket for basket with the entire Bears roster before the Northern C Divisional champs began to pull away. Malatare, a sophomore, finished with a game-high 33 points before fouling out with 2:41 to play.
But skill recognized skill as all five Box Elder players on the floor ran to Arlee's bench to exchange hugs with the vanquished Warrior.
"That's just sportsmanship," said a smiling Brandon The Boy, who countered with 25 points for Box Elder.
After leading 13-12 through a sloppy first quarter as the two titans felt each other out, Box Elder took a 41-33 lead into the half. The Bears pushed it to 56-41 in the third.
But Arlee made a mini surge. Malatare hit two free throws, then Justis Haynes put back a miss for a layup. Malatare sunk a spinning 10-footer moments later and Tyler Tanner's layup capped an 8-0 run that lasted hardly a minute.
As was the story all night, the Bears were ready with an answer. They closed the quarter on a 12-3 run, capped by a Bodis Duran 3-pointer. Box Elder shot 8 for 15 on 3-pointers and had three in the third quarter alone.
Arlee (24-2), which lost only its season opener and season closer, was 1 of 17 on treys and trailed by 12 or more the entire the fourth.
"Those few threes, those were daggers," Arlee coach Zanen Pitts said. "We took a gamble because that Belt (semifinal game Friday) took our legs out. The kids were starting to get fatigued so we had to try a different defense."
That weariness only got worse as the tempo heightened as the game drew on. Arlee forced 28 turnovers -- they had a whopping 19 steals -- but didn't have the legs to finish on the other end.
"My goodness," Pitts said, perusing the post-game stat sheet for the first time. "We did everything right. We forced more turnovers, but they executed off those turnovers."
Arlee shot just 37.7 percent and had 23 points off turnovers compared to Box Elder's 36.
Saturday marked Arlee's third ever foray into the state championship game and the outcome mirrored its first two trips. The Warriors also took second in 2011 and in 1995, when Pitts was a ball boy for his coaching father, Terry.
This one was both more painful and more magical. Only once before had two predominantly Native American schools faced off for boys' basketball gold in Montana, Hays Lodgepole topping Heart Butte in 2002. A sold-out Four Seasons -- fans were turned away at the gate more than a half hour before tip off because the arena was at capacity -- reflected the game's importance.
"I'm just happy I had my community here to support us," an emotional Malatare said moments after the loss. "It meant a lot for both reservations to have this happen. I just wish it would have been a different story."
"It's a bummer it was such a sour feeling, because it was such a great moment," Pitts added. "To be a part of something like that is a surreal opportunity."
In the end Box Elder's fire power was too much for Arlee. The Boy's 25 points paired well with the 26 of Jerrod Four Colors, who also grabbed 15 rebounds.
The Bears averaged 88.3 points in their three state victories. They finished the year 27-1.
Tyler Tanner and Patrick Bigsam backed Malatare with 16 points apiece, Bigsam adding 11 rebounds and five steals, but Malatare's championship-game flash will be remembered on both the Flathead and Rocky Boy Indian Reservations for years to come.
"Once he gets in a zone, he just scores and it's crazy to watch. No one can really stop him," said Bigsam, who was one of nine other players on the court gawking at Malatare's Mona Lisa in the fourth quarter, a behind-the-back dribble through traffic in the key that led to a reverse layup under the basket.
Of course he was fouled on the play and hit the ensuing layup. It may have been the only silent moment in the house Saturday night as the stunned crowd caught their breath.
And then unleashed a roar of approval that will keep Arlee warm until its next title-seeking team reaches state.
Belt 45, Westby-Grenora 28
It may not be gold -- or silver -- but the Belt Huskies salvaged a trophy Saturday after winning it all a year ago.
The Huskies shot lights out in the first half, crafting a 24-11 lead behind a 55.6 shooting percentage. Belt also limited the Thunder to just three first-half rebounds.
Koltin Haugrose scored 22 points for Belt, including a perfect 7-for-7 outing at the free-throw line. Teammate Matt Metrione had two points, but 10 rebounds.
Westby-Grenora, which was third last year, was led by Kade Guenther's eight points before he fouled out late in the game.
Belt 58, Manhattan Christian 51
Belt's 15-point-scoring trio lifted the Huskies to a chance for a state trophy and eliminated Manhattan Christian.
Belt paraded out its scorers Koltin Haugrose, Jaren Maki and Matt Metrione, all of whom netted 15 points in the win. The victory sent the Huskies to the third-place game later in the day.
James Ramirez scored a game-high 21 points for the Eagles and also grabbed 14 rebounds. He and teammate Kevin Blanksma (15 points) were the only scorers in double figures.
Westby-Grenora 56, Terry 51
The Gierke brothers played all out, but Westby-Grenora was too much for Terry in an elimination game.
Zak Gierke scored a game-high 19 points and Kale Gierke chipped in another 16, but the rest of the Terriers managed just 16 points.
The Mon Dak Thunder shot 52.6 percent for the game to advance to the third-place game. Kade Guenther netted 17 points and Kevin Rust added 15 in the win.