GAME OF THE WEEK (March 16–22)
BOYS BASKETBALL: WIAA state semifinals
Division 4: #2 Darlington (26–0) vs. Cameron (23–3), at Kohl Center, Thursday, March 16, 6:35 p.m., WGLR (97.7 FM)
The second-ranked Redbirds defeated fifth-ranked Cochrane–Fountain City 67–55 in last Saturday’s WIAA Division 4 Baraboo sectional final to earn the program’s first state tournament appearance in 27 years. Darlington opens the second half on a 20–4 run to erase a three-point halftime deficit, and then went 13 of 14 from the free throw line in the final seven minutes to seal the 12-point victory.
“The expectations were there all year long,” said first-year Darlington head coach Tom Uppena, who replaced former coach Michael Hopkins who stepped down in the offseason due to health concerns. “Our kids weren’t going to have a letdown happen. Whatever play that needed to be made, we made. The kids played their butts off once again. To be able to get this win and move to the next level is a very special moment for our kids.”
The Redbirds will now face 2016 Division 4 state runner-up Cameron (23–3) in tonight’s state semifinal game at the Kohl Center at 6:35 p.m. The unranked Comets graduated 85 percent of their scoring from last year’s state team, but this year’s team has a lot of height with seven players 6’2” or taller. Darlington, on the other hand has just one player taller than 6’2”.
“We’re pretty long, tall and athletic,” said Cameron head coach Troy La Vallie. “We have five guys who average double figures on offense, but our defense is wha has carried us this far.” The Comets are allowing just 35.4 points per game this season.
Junior Gunner Wilder averaged 18.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, while shooting 46.3 percent from the 3-point line for the Comets. Senior Victor Martinez averaged 11.3 points and 5 rebounds per game, 6-foot-7 senior Jakob Bailey (10.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg) also averages in double figures and 6-foot-6 senior Josh Koenecke (9.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is the team’s leading rebounder.
Senior Will Schwartz (15.7 pig, 5.2 rpg) leads the Redbirds in scoring. Senior Trevor Johnson averages 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds, while fellow senior guard Ryan Glendenning averages 10.8 points, 4 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game.
Thursday’s winner will advance to Saturday’s D4 state championship game against either top-ranked Destiny (24–1) and Manitowoc Roncallli (13–13). Tip-off is set for 12:45 p.m.
Uppena believes his team is up to the challenge.
“Anyone who has seen this team play over the course of the year, and especially of late, knows that they pour everything they have into the game of basketball,” said Uppena. “I’m so proud of them for buying in and listening to our coaches and playing for each other more importantly.”
I’m very excited to be here. They’re not new to big stages and big atmospheres. No state is too large for them,” added Uppena noting that members of his team are part of four straight state runner-up finishes in football and four consecutive state titles in cross country. “I also see in these kids the demeanor that they are not done yet. They want to keep going. There are teams who are happy to just get to state and teams who want to win state. I think we’re the second one.”
Uppena helped lead Cassville to the state tournament twice as a player, finishing second in Division 4 in 1999 and winning a state title in 2000 while playing for his father Dennis Uppena.
Division 5: #7 Shullsburg (25–2) vs. #1 Chippewa Falls McDonnell Central (24–3), at Kohl Center, Madison, Friday, March 17, 9:05 a.m. WPVL (1590 AM)
Noah Wand’s dramatic off-balance 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining lifted Shullsburg to its first state tournament appearance since 1991. With time running out in Saturday’s WIAA Division 5 La Crosse Logan sectional final, Wand let fly the game-winning long-distance bomb over a Bangor defender to lift Shullsburg to a 60–58 victory over the fifth-ranked Cardinals.
Wand and the seventh-ranked Miners will now face number-one ranked and defending Division 5 state champion Chippewa Falls McDonell Central in a state semifinal at the Kohl Center in Madison Friday at 9:05 a.m. The Macks have won 17 straight games in their return trip to state and return four started from last year’s championships team led by 6’5” senior forward Grayson Knowlton (16.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg), 6’6” junior forward Hayden Baughman (16.1 ppg, 7 rpg) and 6’7” senior forward Alex Ohde (14.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg).
“We are starting to play our best basketball right now,” said Central head coach Archie Sherbinow. “I don’t know if we’ll hang anything on being the defending champs. It’a a whole new ball game.”
Six Rivers East champion and third-ranked Barneveld (24–3) meets fourth-ranked Columbus Catholic (25–2) in the other D5 semifinal game on Friday morning at 10:45 a.m. The winners advance to Saturday’s D5 state championship game that will be played at 11:05 a.m.
Senior guard Hunter Matye was named the Six Rivers West Player of the Year for a second straight season, leading Shullsburg in scoring, assists, steals and blocks. He averages 14.3 points, 7.5 rpg, 4.2 assists and 1.7 steals. Division 2 Minnesota–Crookston recruit Joey Meyer averages 14.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Wand, who will play at Edgewood College next year, averages 11.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game.
“We’re just excited to be playing" the Macks, said Shullsburg head coach Mark Lierman. “I hope the guys can relax and enjoy it and play loose like we have most of the year."