Nicolet girls basketball coach Corey Bronson Wolf knows that Grafton didn't win two of the last three WIAA State Division 2 championships by being anything less than bullish on defense.
And Wolf and the Knights were happy to imitate the host Blackhawks in the most sincere fashion Friday night holding them to just 10 points over the last 12 minutes of the game in pulling away for a 59-38 North Shore Conference victory.
"We knew that they would be difficult," said Wolf, "and they present such unique problems. First off, you can't overestimate the value of the experience they got going to state and winning that state championship. Something like that just makes them tough."
"And they play such good defense. We have our moments, but we want to be like that all the time."
The win improved the Knights, who shared the North Shore title with the Blackhawks last season, to 3-0 in league play and 5-1 overall, while Grafton fell to 1-2 and 2-3, respectively. Nicolet remains in a tie for the North Shore lead with surprising Germantown (3-0, 7-0).
"You just have to be ready for them all the time," said junior guard Ashley Green, who had 16 of her 20 points in the second half. "Even with all those players they lost (to graduation), they're always tough."
That much was true even though Nicolet never trailed in the game. They had a 12-2 lead early, but with foul trouble dogging Knight starters Gaby Bronson, Alex Cohen and even Green herself, the Blackhawks held close in the second, drawing to within six at one point.
Sophomore point guard Courtney Smith and shooting guard Brittney Fair were frequently the only starters on the floor in the second quarter for the Knights.
"Courtney plays such solid defense and she has a very calming effect on her teammates," Wolf said. "She really takes a lot of pressure off people."
The pressure was still on in the third quarter, as a Kaitlyn Brandenburg three-pointer drew the Blackhawks to within 30-28 with 4:56 left, but that's when Green, who had nine points in the period, went to work.
She first hit a lay-up, then finished a three-point play after gracefully grabbing an offensive rebound in traffic, and then after a Grafton basket, she took a neat inbounds pass from Smith and converted the shot to make it 37-29. Grafton would get no closer than six after that.
Nicolet's defense forced nine fourth quarter turnovers out of the Blackhawks as the Knights went on a 14-0 run to put the game away.
Fair added 14 while Cohen and Smith had seven apiece for Nicolet.
Wolf was impressed by Green's effort.
"Grafton's defense shut down the openings in the first half," said Wolf, "but Ashley adjusted well in the second half. She went looking for her shot a little more."
"We had a slow first half," Green said, "but then we came out a lot harder in the second. Beating these guys is always important. From here on out, we'll compete as hard as we can because we want that conference championship."
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