MCDONALD'S SWNEWS4U.COM GAME OF THE WEEK (Jan. 27–Feb. 3)
BOYS BASKETBALL: Darlington 82, #1 Cuba City 80
DARLINGTON — Freshman Will Murray knocked down the game-winning basket with three seconds remaining to lift the host Darlington Redbirds over the Division 4 #1-ranked and previously unbeaten Cuba City Cubans, 82-80, in a instant-classic SWAL boys’ basketball game at DHS on Monday, Feb. 1.
Darlington not only snapped a personal four-game slide against Cuba City along with the Cubans' state-best 38-game overall winning streak, but also pulled the Redbirds (13-4 overall, 8-1 SWAL) into a first-place tie with the Cubans (13-1, 8-1) atop the SWAL with five games remaining.
“That was, obviously, a big one for us. It puts us back tied for first in conference; but also, after losing three times to them last year, it was nice to get them back this year,” said Darlington head coach Tom Uppena. “We didn’t turn the ball over like we did last time against them and they didn’t hurt us in transition. Other than missing some free throws late that could have sealed it, we were solid all around offensively.”
Darlington put four players in double figures led by senior Cayden Rankin with 19 points. Seniors Carter Lancaster and Curtis Stone followed with 17 and 16, respectively, and Murray finished with 16 as well for the 'Birds.
“I think the key was how we played as a team and shared the ball. We had 24 assists and four guys in double figures. The attack was pretty balanced, which makes us tough to guard,” Uppena noted.
Senior forward Jack Misky scored a career-high 38 points to drive the Cubans’ offensive attack, while senior guard Riley Richard added a career-high 18 points and junior point guard Carter Olson chipped in with 13 points for Cuba City.
The Cubans took an early lead on five straight points by sophomore Max Lucey and held that lead for much of the first half, but Darlington never let them get more than seven points ahead at any point.
After the ‘Birds tied the game at 22 all, the Cubans responded back with seven unanswered points to open up a 29-22. Darlington fought back to even the score at 33 and 35 on baskets by Rankin and Murray, and then took their first lead 39-37 on back-to-back baskets by Lancaster and Rankin to end the half.
The teams continued to go at one another throughout the second half, swapping the lead nine times over the first nine minutes of the stanza. A three-point play by Richard put the Cubans up 59-57 with 9:02 to play, however the ‘Birds netted the next eight points to grab a 65-59 lead.
Lancaster extended the hosts’ lead to eight at 69-61, but Misky scored nine of his 23 second-half points during a 15-8 run that brought the Cubans back within a point at 77-76 with around a minute remaining.
Stone put Darlington back up by four with an old-fashioned three-point play with 54 seconds to go, but Misky and Richard each sank a pair of free throws to deadlock the score once more at 80 all with :13.6 left on the clock.
The Redbirds called a timeout to set up a final play; and, while it didn’t work out the way head coach Tom Uppena drew it up, it worked nonetheless as Lancaster found a wide-open Murray under the basket and the frosh put the ball through the hoop to put the ‘Birds ahead 82-80.
“The last play was going to be a high ball screen action with Cayden getting a ball screen, Curtis getting a flare screen, and Carter rolling to the basket. Those three have been our go-to guys in the clutch, so we were hoping to get a good look for one of them. Cuba City came out and pressured us full court, so we didn’t have time to set up in our set,” Uppena explained.
“Curtis made a great pass to Carter, who had some daylight and attacked the rim. He drew the help and Will was ready for the dump in from Carter. It showed how much Carter and the rest of those guys trust Will, especially with the game on the line. Will doesn’t play like a freshman anymore. He grew up quickly this year, and his teammates know what he brings to the team.”
A desperation 3 by the Cubans at the buzzer was well off the mark, giving them their first loss since the 2018-19 season.
Stone led the team with nine rebounds. Lancaster dished out six assists, while junior Hunter Hardyman had two steals and eight points and Easton Evenstad chipped in with six points off the bench.
At Darlington, on Thursday, Jan. 28, Carter Lancaster led four players in double figures with a game-high 14 points to lead the Redbirds over the visiting Southwestern Wildcats, 70-47, in SWAL action.
Curtis Stone and Hardyman netted 12 points apiece. Murray scored 10 points and junior Easton Evenstad added eight for the balanced ‘Birds, who scored 35 points in both the first and second halves.
Ray Runde had 12 points for the Wildcats (10-9, 4-6)
Darlington has upcoming SWAL games scheduled at home against Mineral Point on Thursday, Feb. 4, and Fennimore on Friday, Feb. 5; and at Iowa-Grant on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Cuba City…. 37 43 – 80
Darlington… 39 43 – 82
Cuba City– Riley Richard 18, Carter Olson 13, Max Lucey 8, Jack Misky 38, Mason Reese 3. Totals – 31 12-17 80.
Darlington– Cayden Rankin 19, Carter Lancaster 17, Curtis Stone 16, Hunter Hardyman 8, Easton Evenstad 6, Will Murray 16. Totals – 36 7-13 82.
3-point goals– CC 6 (Richard 1, Olson 1, Lucey 1, Misky 2, Reese 1), D 3 (Rankin 1, Stone 1, Hardyman 1). Total fouls– CC 15, D 18. Fouled out– CC: Lucey; D: Evenstad.
Southwestern… 23 24 – 47
Darlington…….. 35 35 – 70
Southwestern – Peerson Kephart 8, Ray Runde 12, Jace Mess 3, Colson Splinter 6, Tyler Brotzman 3, Nathan Reiff 7, Anthony Martin 8. Totals – 18 5-10 47.
Darlington– Cayden Rankin 6, Carter Lancaster 14, Curtis Stone 12, Hunter Hardyman 12, James Hartwig 2, Easton Evenstad 8, Will Murray 10, Braden Davis 2, Ethan Schuchart 1, Parker Fitzsimons 3. Totals – 27 11-22 70.
3-point goals– S 6 (Kephart 2, Runde 1, Mess 1, Brotzman 1, Reiff 1), D 5 (Rankin 2, Lancaster 2, Stone 2, Evenstad 2). Total fouls– S 15, D 10. Fouled out– None.