Nicolet girls claim defensive struggle with Whitefish Bay, 29-24
Gray and Duhart make big plays down stretch
Whitefish Bay - All the advantages were supposed to be with the girls basketball team going into the opener of its girl-boy doubleheader with rival Nicolet last Friday.
The primary two were that the Blue Dukes were at home and that 2012 All-Suburban center Maya Jonas was going to make her first appearance of the season after suffering a knee injury last May.
They also had the defensive chops and experience that the Knights supposedly didn't.
Only someone forgot to tell all that to Nicolet, as the Knights held the Blue Dukes to just six points in the second half and pulled an aesthetically-less-than-pleasing but fantastic-for-morale 29-24 decision.
Knights coach Rick DeKeyser credited his kids and his staff for believing that they could do this.
"It was incredible," he said. "We'd lost so many close conference games this season, but we just kept talking to the girls. Emily Weseley (a Knights assistant coach) was also great in the timeouts, just talking to the girls telling them that we had been here before and that we've learned how to close the deal.
"It's a good, good feeling," he continued. "We beat a quality team that's well-coached, well-disciplined. It's a huge feather in our cap."
And it left Blue Dukes coach Greg Capper frustrated, but also a bit bemused.
"I joked with Rick afterwards, that we'll play the second half of this game sometime in February," Capper said. "It was sort of like that Grafton game we had last year (a 26-23 win). You hang around long enough, everyone gets a game like this sometimes. It's just that we could have used a little better timing on it."
Indeed, the loss for Bay dropped them out of a first place tie in the North Shore. The Blue Dukes (5-2, 7-6) are now a game behind Cedarburg (6-1) and will visit Germantown (5-2, 10-3), a team they beat back in November, but which has now won six in a row and scored more than 80 in each of its last two games.
Meanwhile, the Knights (4-3, 7-7), remain in a tie for fourth and will try to keep a pulse in the NSC race when they host Homestead on Friday.
Not Bay's night
Maybe it was the 5:45 p.m. start but both teams struggled to get out of first gear last Friday. Bay had a 10-8 lead at the quarter and an 18-14 advantage at the half.
"It just seemed that our offensive initiative was poor all night," Capper said.
Bay still held a 21-19 lead at the end of the third quarter.
However, just before the period ended came a series of plays that told Capper that maybe it just wasn't going to be the Blue Dukes' night.
"We had a 21-18 lead and we got something like three or four stops in a row with the rebound and then we would just turn it right back over to them," he said.
That trend continued in the fourth quarter as the Knights slowly moved forward and took the lead.
"We were able to force turnovers, travels, bad passes off our trap," DeKeyser said, "and once we got to the fourth quarter, we started rebounding well."
Eventually Knight forward Briana Gray (game-high 12 points) hit her only three-pointer of the night to put Nicolet ahead for good. She also hit three of four free throws as 5-8 Lanoira Duhart also knocked down a critical free throw.
"We tried very hard to get good box-out position," said DeKeyser. "We have to do the little things consistently well if we're going to win games like this. Still, it was a heck of a defensive game for both teams. We worked as hard as we could."
Duhart, Lizzy Benson and Sara Travia all contributed five points for Nicolet while for Bay, forward Ashley Reed had eight points, Ava Stock six and Jonas, who played an estimated 16 minutes, came up with five.
"She would be the first one to admit that she was winded," said Capper of Jonas, "but she will get better, stronger. There are also things that we have to talk about, especially focus, especially on offense. Anytime you lose focus, you lose site of your objective, it gets very hard. Defense, rebounding and ball security are three things this team is going to have to hang its hat on.
Playing with heart
DeKeyser was again pleased with the heart his team showed, especially noting that Duhart continues to guard players much taller than she is and is still very successful at it.
"I don't know how she does it," he said.
He also loved the doubleheader concept.
"We should do it about four times next year," DeKeyser said. "It's a great idea. There weren't many people here at the start of the game, but it was almost packed by halftime."
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