BOULDER -- Austin Sparks wasn't concerned only about sitting out half of the basketball season when his senior year began.
The 6-foot-7 Fairview center -- required by Colorado High School Activities Association rules to miss the first 11 games after transferring from Valor Christian -- was also worried about how long it might take him to round into game form and begin contributing for his new team once he did suit up.
But Sparks has wasted little time in making a big impact.
Two nights after scoring 31 points in an overtime win over Fossil Ridge in his second outing of the season, Sparks scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 56-45 Fairview victory over Loveland on Thursday night at home.
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The University of South Dakota recruit said FHS coach Frank Lee offered up a challenge when practices began in November: Find a way to get better while you're sitting out.
"That's exactly what I did," said Sparks, who hit the weights and worked to improve his shooting, ball-handling and running over the first half of the season.
Fairview (11-3, 6-1 Front Range League) needed every bit of Sparks' contribution on Thursday evening when the Knights largely struggled offensively against Loveland's 3-2 zone defense.
Sparks scored nine first-half points as the Knights carried a 22-16 lead into intermission. His three-point play early in the third period extended FHS' lead to 10 points, and two buckets early in the fourth made it 43-26 Knights and left the visiting Indians in desperation mode the rest of the way.
"He really did some good things and changed the way they defended us a little bit," Lee said. "He's got a real strong inside presence."
Fairview and Loveland (10-4, 5-2) entered Thursday tied for second place in the Front Range League, and the Indians brought their own big gun into the game in 6-8 forward Conor Lang.
Lang came into the night averaging 20.7 points per game. But as primarily a spot-up shooter, he never got going until late. With Sparks guarding him for much of the night, Lang had scored just one point until racking up eight in the final 4 minutes of the game to finish with nine.
"It's hard with a bigger guy on you, a lot of length," Lang said of Sparks. "He didn't give me any room. I just didn't shoot well at all either."
Brent Wrapp, Fairview's leading scorer before Sparks' arrival, scored just 10 points on the evening, and starting guard Trevor McQueeney left the game early with a leg injury.
But as usual, Wrapp impacted the game in a variety of ways, snagging seven rebounds and handing out a number of assists. Dakota Pilkington and Gabe Tierney added seven points apiece for FHS.
Defensively, the Knights not only shut down Lang but didn't let anyone else hurt them either. Guard Joe Etling scored 10 points to lead the way for the Indians.
While the victory wasn't the smoothest, Lee was happy with the defensive performance and, of course, the win itself as the Knights trail league-leader Monarch by just one game in the standings with one more head-to-head matchup to go against the Coyotes.
"We're still within striking distance and control our own destiny," Lee said. "That's what we're trying to do."
Follow Josh on Twitter: @JoshLindenstein
Fairview 56, Loveland 45
At Fairview HS
LOVELAND (10-4, 5-2)
Ryan 2 0-0 4, Strasbaugh 3 1-2 8, Hale 2 1-3 6, Wylie 1 0-0 2, Etling 4 1-2 10, Anderson 1 0-0 2, Bernhardt 1 0-0 2, Weinmaster 0 0-0 0, Lang 3 1-2 9, Nye 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 4-9 45.
FAIRVIEW (11-3, 6-1)
Wrapp 2 6-9 10, Tierney3 0-0 7, McQueeney 0 0-0 0, Lane 1 2-4 4, Martin 0 0-0 0, Pilkington 3 0-0 7, Schneider 1 0-0 2, Balter 0 0-0 0, Twist 1 0-0 2, MacKenzie 0 0-0 0, Sparks 11 2-2 24. Totals 23 10-15 56.
Score by quarters:
Loveland 6 10 9 20 -- 45
Fairview 9 13 17 17 -- 56
3-point field goals -- Loveland (5): Lang 2, Etling, Hale, Strasbaugh; Fairview (2): Tierney, Pilkington. Total fouls -- Loveland 15, Fairview 13. Fouled out -- None. Technicals -- Fairview bench.