MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM CO-GAME OF THE WEEK (Feb. 21–28)
SWAL BOYS BASKETBALL: Southwestern 75, #4 Mineral Point 69
By A.J. Gates, Tri-County Press/Herald Independent
HAZEL GREEN — As his team was just minutes away from taking the court against league leading Mineral Point in last Thursday night’s regular-season finale, coach Clint Nemitz laid down a challenge to his team in order to find out what they were really made of.
His Wildcats responded in a big way to their coaches’ challenge, posting a 75–69 upset victory over the state’s division 4 fourth ranked Pointers.
With the win, Southwestern moved into third place in the Southwest Wisconsin Activities League with a record of 10–4, while forcing a split of this year’s conference title between Cuba City and Mineral Point, each finishing 12–2.
“We talked before the game that this Mineral Point game needed to set the tone for who we were as a basketball team,” said Nemitz. “We had some nice wins this year and competed every night, but we needed to prove to ourselves that we belonged in the conversation that a lot of people are putting us in, a deep playoff run. I think our guys realize they belong on the floor with the best.”
In their 14 conference games this season, coach Nemitz’ squad has averaged 62.0 points per game, while giving up an average of 50.8 points per contest in what arguably is one of the toughest conferences in the state.
Throughout the season, Southwestern lost to Cuba City in both of their meetings, while splitting with Darlington and Mineral Point. Their closest conference victories were two-point wins over Fennimore, 46–44, and Darlington, 56–54, while posting blowout wins over the league’s bottom-half teams.
Short handed against the Pointers without junior forward Anthony Martin, coach Nemitz went with a smaller lineup, which was part of the game plan to begin with.
“From our first match-up we learned that we couldn’t use our big lineup anyway,” Nemitz explained. “Mineral Point is too tough of a guard for our big lineup, so the thought was to go small with four guards to help us defensively.”
Despite going with a smaller lineup, it was 6’7” senior forward Nate Reiff who made his presence known early in the contest, and set the tone for much of the night.
Reiff led the Wildcats with 23 points, knocking down eight field goals, including four 3-pointers, and was 3-of-5 from the free throw line. Reiff also pulled down 10 points and blocked five shots.
“Nate got us going early with buckets around the rim, a few 3-pointer and blocked shots,” said Nemitz of his big man. “He had it working.”
As the Wildcats began to build as much as a 10-point lead over the Pointers, senior guard Peerson Kephart made things difficult for the Pointers.
Kephart netted 16 points on six field goals, including two 3-pointers, while also going 2-of-3 from the charity stripe and dishing out a team-high four assists.
Peerson put pressure on their defense all night long,” said Nemitz. “Getting to the middle of the lane and either scoring or dishing for buckets. He even took two huge charges. Peerson and Nate played like the all-conference senior studs we have seen come through this conference for nine years. They were phenomenal at their positions, and both played 35 minutes and had noting left.”
After one half of play, the Wildcats held a 43–39 lead over the Pointers. Midway through the second half, the Wildcats were clinging to a one-point lead, but in the next four minutes extended their lead to 10.
Relying on their trapping defense to create turnovers late in the game, the Pointers didn’t send Southwestern to the foul line as often as one might think, though the Wildcats did make 9-of-11 attempts from the charity strip in the second half to seal the victory, while committing 13 turnovers in the game.
The Wildcats got scoring contributions from players other than Reiff and Kephart, as Colson Splinter added 14 points, Landon Rogers 11 and Jace Mess eight. Rogers also had a team-high four steals for Southwestern.
“Colson, Jace, Landon and Gavin Jochum played incredible as well,” said coach Nemitz. “Some of the biggest buckets in the game came when Peerson found Landon behind the defense for easy layups.
As a team, the Wildcats made 24-of-50 (48%) shot attempts, including 8-of-20 (40%) from 3-point range. They were 19-of-25 (76%) from the free throw line, compared to 9-of-12 (75%) for the Pointers.
With Thursday night’s victory over Mineral Point, the Wildcats ride a four-game win streak into the postseason tournament, where they are the #3 seed in their Division 5 sectional bracket. Wauzeka–Steuben (23–0) holds the #1 seed, with Seneca (18–3) being the #2 seed.
“As far as going forward, we still have to take care of business,” said Nemitz. “There is nothing tougher than getting to the Kohl Center, no matter the division.”
Southwestern 75, #4 Mineral Point 69
(from Thursday, Feb. 24, at Hazel Green)
Mineral Point.....39 30 – 69
Southwestern.....43 32 – 75
Mineral Point - Owen Ward 8, Leyten Bowers 9, Dominik McVay 8, Eli Lindsey 7, Tanner Goninen 3, Bodie Bossert 12, Joah Filardo 15, Bryce Acherman 7. Totals - 25 9-12 69.
Southwestern - Peerson Kephart 16, Landon Rogers 11, Gavin Jochum 3, Jace Mess 8, Colson Splinter 14, Nate Reiff 23. Totals - 24-50 19-25 75.
3-point goals - MP: Filardo 3, McVay 2, Bossert 2, Bowers 1, Lindsey 1, Goninen 1; SW: (8-20) Reiff 4, Kephart 2, Rogers 1, Mess 1. Team fouls - MP 19, SW 14. Fouled out - None.