Sectional title a first in 13 years for Knights
Took on De Pere for state berth on Tuesday
With several reserves in the game, Nicolet scored only 2 points in the fourth quarter, both on a pair of free throws with less than a minute to play. And yet, the Knights defeated a very good Arrowhead team by 33 points in the WIAA Division 1 sectional final.
It's the best illustration of just how good those first three quarters were.
The Knights were unstoppable, starting on a 15-2 run and adding an 18-0 run in the game's midsection on their way to an easy 55-22 victory at Kettle Moraine last Saturday. The victory put Nicolet in the Super Tuesday at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh against DePere (22-3), with a berth in the state tournament on the line.
And with that, the battle lines are for these senior-dominated Knights as they seek their fourth trip to state and first since 1998.
"This has been an incredible time for us," said senior center Alex Cohen. "We haven't had a chance to make it this far yet. Now that we've been successful, and achieved the first goal, we now want to go even further and win state."
If Nicolet (23-2) wins, it will face the victor of Eau Claire North (23-2) and Appleton East (15-9) in a WIAA Division 1 semifinal at 6:35 p.m. Friday in the Kohl Center in Madison.
And they earned that opportunity with shocking ease.
Arrowhead came into the sectional final with 16 wins in their last 17 games, but Nicolet scored early and often to put the outcome away quickly.
"We wanted to really set the tone defensively," said Nicolet coach Corey Wolf. "We felt we could get out and pressure their guards a little bit, and we did that. We were hoping to take the ball away from their bigs ... I thought we made them play a little faster than they wanted to play. We got some turnovers and some good looks."
AHS missed 11 of its first 12 shots and shot 19 percent for the game, while Nicolet made 8 of 11 shots in the first quarter and 16 of 26 in the first half, using superb ball movement and tempo.
"We work well together," said Nicolet's Ashley Green, who led a balanced attack with 14 points. "Our entire team, we all know each other's strengths and weaknesses. If one person has a weakness, another person has that as a strength."
Gaby Bronson (13 points), Brittney Fair (10 points) and Cohen (8 points) all had a hand in the scoring. Meanwhile, with diminutive point guard Courtney Smith leading the way, no Arrowhead player scored more than 6 points. Guard Jessica Goetz, Arrowhead's second-leading scorer, did not find the basket.
"She's probably the best on the ball defender in high school that I've seen," Wolf said of Smith. "It doesn't matter how fast you are or how quick you are, she can really take point guards out of the game, and I thought she did that. She's been a tough kid for us for three years."
Both teams turned the ball over more than 20 times, so Wolf was able to find something on which to work, even though the performance was otherwise very complete.
"Even though we play fast, we still take pride in taking care of the ball," Wolf said. "Defensively, we did really good things. Our guards Fair and Smith really got into them. They were thinking twice every time they caught the ball."
Arrowhead finished 18-7.
"Their five players are the best five in the state," said Arrowhead coach Heidi Hamilton. "They're that talented. When you have that many Division 1 prospects on one team, you're going to go far."
And the road is still long for the Knights.
"We now have an opportunity to take the next step," said Wolf. "This group is not taking anything for granted. They're playing every game like it could be their last. All we're doing is looking at the game ahead."
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