Nicolet girls basketball coach Corey Wolf chuckled when she casually noted that all-state guard Brittney Fair had a lot of swag following senior night festivities Thursday night.
But the balloons, flowers, ribbons and other gifts were just the icing on the cake this evening, as Fair fought off a fourth quarter charley horse in her leg to score 30 points and will the Knights to the most important prize of all, a share of their fourth straight North Shore Conference title with a 46-38 win over Germantown.
"Man, those things are painful," laughed Fair afterwards, "but I knew with how hard Germantown was playing and how important this game was, I just had to get back in there. It's just the fighter in me. We just wanted that conference title so bad, and now there it is."
There it is indeed, as the Knights, who have struggled a bit down the stretch, won their second game in a row and finished off the regular season at 12-2 in North Shore play, good for a tie for the title with Grafton and Whitefish Bay, both of which won easily this night.
Nicolet will enter the WIAA tournament next weekend at 19-3 overall.
"It's big winning conference," Wolf said. "It's one of our major goals and they went out and did it. And I tell you, I like winning streaks. I don't care how we do it, or how short they are."
"We just had to figure out a way to get it done tonight and we did."
The Knights had gone a long ways towards figuring it out when Fair went out at the 7:19 mark of the fourth quarter. They had fought back from a 22-17 halftime deficit at the hands of the tenacious Warhawks (6-8, 8-14) with a decidedly more intense attitude in the third period.
"The magic speech?" said Wolf. "Work harder."
And the Knights did. They outscored the Warhawks 14-3 through the first 5:30 of the third session as Fair had nine points in the period while junior forward Lanoira Duhart added six (10 points on the night for her).
"We had to pick it up quick," said senior point guard Courtney Smith, who was the only other returning starter back for the Knights along with Fair following the 2011 state title season. "You could tell everyone was down at halftime. It was looking like we weren't going to go out with a bang."
"We knew what we had to. It was just a matter of going out there and doing it."
The advantage was 36-29 going into the final session.
Fair had just scored on a steal to give Nicolet its largest lead of the night at 38-29 early in the fourth when the charley horse hit her. Nicolet trainer John Larsen was out in a flash and started working on it immediately, but it was still a long 2:05 before Fair came back in.
By the time she re-entered, Germantown's Taylor Higginbotham (team high 13 points) had scored on a steal to make it 38-33 with 5:35 to go.
But after an exchange of turnovers, Fair hit a clutch jumper from the wing to make it 40-33. Germantown got two free throws shortly therafter to make it 40-35 with 3:54 remaining, but the Warhawks wouldn't score again for another three minutes.
In the interim, the Knights went about putting the finishing touches on their NSC title and in the process, making the senior night a happy one for the six honorees.
Smith hit two free throws with 1:30 left and Fair took advantage of an overplay on defense and scored easily on a nice Duhart inbounds pass to make it 44-35 with 59 seconds left to clinch things.
For Fair, Smith and the other seniors, it was then time to happily collect their flowers and balloons.
Germantown coach Matt Stuve was disappointed that his team missed out on a choice opportunity at playing spoiler.
"When we took care of the ball and got good shots, we were OK (the first half)," he said. "We just made some poor decisions and they got too many fastbreaks (the second half). When we treated the ball like gold, we were fine. It was just when we treated it like sewage that we ran into a problem."
"It was still a good effort, the kids played hard."
But it was all gold for the Knights this night as seniors Fair and Smith joined fellow upperclassmen Tiffany Pigg, Rebecca Olin, Chelsey McDowell and Jasmine Stacy in celebrating another championship.
"It was a hard one to get, because Germantown played a nice game," said Fair. "It was important for all the seniors to get this fourth conference title."
"Very important," added Smith. "We didn't know what to expect this year (after heavy graduation losses) but I think we enjoyed almost every minute of it."
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