Cuba City looks to catch "lightning in a bottle" in state semifinal with Dominican
Berger believes Knights are ready
The legend that is Cuba City boys basketball coach Jerry Petitgoue was supposed to have retired after last year's tearful WIAA state Division 4 championship loss to Whitefish Bay Dominican.
But he didn't.
He was also, as he said in his own words, planning on "getting ready to join the WIAA state broadcast team" when his Cubans fell behind by 16 points in the third quarter of its WIAA sectional final with Onalaska Luther on Saturday.
But surprise! His team rallied and won by three in overtime.
Which brings him and the surprising Cubans (26-0) all the way back to a WIAA State D4 semifinal with that same Dominican squad (22-4) at approximately 8:15 p.m. Thursday at the Kohl Center in Madison.
Even the 72-year old Petitgoue, whose 844 wins is so far ahead of every other prep coach in state history, that second place may as well be on the other side of the planet, is surprised by his team, which is ranked first in state D4 polls.
"If you had told me 52 weeks ago that we'd be in this position again, I'd have thought that there was something strange in the water," he said, "but I'm a firm believer in getting better every day. Each and every day. I always ask the kids, can today's team beat yesterday's?"
And he knows the odds that he is up against, as this battle-tested and second-ranked Dominican squad, led by 6-2 lightning-quick guard and Marquette recruit Duane Wilson and the 6-9 imposing sophomore man-child that is Diamond Stone, will be an imposing test.
The Knights took down an excellent and previously unbeaten Laconia squad, 52-39, in the sectional final Saturday to earn a chance at repeating as state champs for first-year coach Derek Berger. Meanwhile, Petitgoue lost a ton of talent off of what he considered one of his best teams ever last season, and so, as he said, he is surprised to be here.
But he's also anxious for his chance and in assessing his odds against Dominican over the WIAA coaches' teleconference on Sunday, he went into the "wayback machine" for a story.
"I remember a conversation with (coach John) 'Weenie' Wilson in Dodgeville back in 1964, when I was just a young coach," he said, "and he was going to play Milwaukee North in the (state) championship game, and he said 'Coach, we could play that team 10 times, and they'll beat us nine of those times, but you just never know about that one.'
"We, ourselves, could play that Dominican team 20 times and I think they'd beat us 19 times, but like I was told, you never know about that one. So maybe we'll just catch some lightning in a bottle Thursday night."
Dodgeville beat North, 59-45, for the title in 1964 in one of the legendary games in state hoops history and Wilson is in the state basketball coaches' Hall Of Fame (baseball and football, too).
Petitgoue is also in the basketball hall, and while Berger makes no allusions to such credentials, he knows that he inherited two very key cogs in Wilson and Stone from former coach Paul Wollersheim. He has built around those two and has challenged his team.
They got belted by top-ranked in Division 3 Little Chute, 66-44, in the season opener; were handled by a powerful D1 Milwaukee Vincent squad, 74-59; lost to another D3 state tournament contender in La Crosse Aquinas, 50-47, and in one of the more celebrated games of the season, fell to unbeaten D1 defending state champion Germantown, 88-53 in a sell-out at their own gym.
But they have won 17 of their last 18 games (the only loss being to Germantown) including their last nine in a row. They have won their four tournament games by margins of 45, 20, 17 and 13 points, respectively.
And Berger feels they are ready.
"Those games with Aquinas, Little Chute and Germantown taught us to be a little tougher," he said, "to play a more complete game. We've had kids who weren't on varsity last season playing in big-time games like that and learning how to succeed in a big-time situations like the one we'll face Thursday (against Cuba City)."
And though everyone knows about the offense that Wilson (23 ppg) and Stone (17 ppg) contribute, Berger said that if the Knights are to succeed again, it will be through their defense. In this current 17-of-18 stretch, they have held their opponents under 50 points 14 times.
"We've just gotten more consistent," he said. "From one to fourteen on the roster, there is a lot more communication going on. It wasn't there early because we just weren't as experienced, but they've learned to work with each other and understand that if Dominican is to be successful it will be through hard work."
And he credits the leadership of Wilson for a lot of that turnaround.
"He's done a lot of talking and teaching to the sophomores and juniors," Berger added. "If he sees something wrong, he'll take the time out to go over and explain things. How to make this pass and how to beat this trap.
"He doesn't get rattled or nervous and that relaxes the other players."
But is that enough to get past a magician like Petitgoue who believes he can conjure lightning in a bottle?
"I remember that final last year," said Petitgoue. "They (the Knights) hit an ungodly number of 3's in that game (10 all total, including five by Wilson). I just hope the Kohl Center rims won't be as kind this time around or we'll be on the first bus back to Cuba City (laughs)."
Dominican to defend title
WIAA STATE D4 TOURNAMENT
KOHL CENTER, MADISON
Fifth-ranked Aburndale (25-1) vs. Amherst (22-3), 6:35 p.m.
#1 Cuba City (26-0) vs. #2 Dominican (22-4), 8:15 p.m.
Approximately 12:45 p.m.
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