POTOSI — Potosi boys basketball coach Mike Uppena wanted to point something out to his team at Wednesday night’s practice, just a day after his Chieftains handed visiting Benton an 85–49 loss.
With the win over the Zephyrs the night before, the Chieftains had clinched at least a share of this year’s Six Rivers West conference title, which according to a sign hanging on the gymnasium wall, was only the program’s fourth in school history.
“I told the guys to look up at the wall, and pointed out that there aren’t very many (conference titles),” said Uppena. “There’s only three of them, and they don’t come around all the time. This is the fourth one that’s up there, and this is something nobody can take away from them.”
Three nights later, the Chieftains secured the out-right conference title with a convincing 67–28 victory over visiting Highland, giving them a league record of 11–0 and a three-game lead over second-place River Ridge (8–3), which they close out the regular season against this Thursday night.
“It’s very special for them, and I’m so proud of them, especially the last six or seven games where they have played really well,” said Uppena.
“We’ve finished second so many times, but I knew if we could do what we needed to do we’d be fine. It’s obviously very gratifying.”
For Uppena, who has been coaching at Potosi for 16 seasons now, it is his second conference championship, his first coming in 2012–13. His Chieftains have finished second in the Six Rivers West six times in the past 16 seasons (2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2011–12, 2014–15, 2015–16).
Coach Uppena returned all five starters from last year’s team, as well as key contributors off the bench, making Potosi the favorite to win this year’s conference title.
Despite the pressures of being the league favorites, Potosi handled this year’s schedule one game at a time, and has a good chance of concluding the season with an unbeaten league record of 12–0.
“Obviously with this group coming in and having everybody back from last year after a good season, I think we’d be crazy to think this wouldn’t be one of our main goals for the year,” Uppena said.
“Just the improvement that these guys made during the offseason, in the weight room, and how hard they have worked, I was hopeful we would put ourselves in position to do this, and we were very fortunate that we did.”
What’s even more impressive is that late in the season, coach Uppena has been starting just one senior, along with two juniors and two sophomores.
He also has a very deep and talented bench that each night makes a significant contribution to their team’s success.
“Athletically, I think we match up with a lot of teams around, and we’re deep enough where we’ve got good quality guys coming off the bench, and everyone is ready to contribute,” Uppena said. “There’s been a lot of games this year where you never knew who was going to be our leading scorer, or who was going to lead us in rebounding. We had those pieces all the time, so it seemed like in any different game somebody different stepped up.
“It’s also a very unselfish group, where sometimes we’d end up with 20 assists or more. They’re just athletically gifted in certain areas and are able to create shots for teammates,” Uppena added.
Last Tuesday night against the Zephyrs, coach Uppena’s squad asserted its dominance on both ends of the court, holding a 44–29 halftime lead before outscoring their opponent 41–20 in the second half.
Sophomore Nick Edge poured in a team-high 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds, while junior Brady Curtis finished close behind with 20 points and seven boards.
Fellow junior Ethan Groom chipped in 12 points and six boards, while senior Alex Udelhofen added a team-high 12 rebounds and seven assists to go along with six points. Sophomore Ryan Kruser had a team-high five steals.
Three night’s later against the visiting Cardinals of Highland, the Chieftains again asserted their dominance on both ends of the court, turning a 39–9 halftime lead into a 67–28 victory to claim the out-right conference title.
Curtis led the Chieftains with 19 points, while senior Alex Udelhofen finished with 18 points, a team-high 11 rebounds and a team-high four assists.
Nine difference players for Potosi scored in Friday night’s contest, while out-rebounded the Cardinals 45–21 with 20 coming on the offensive end.
As the number two seed in their WIAA Division 5 half sectional bracket, the Chieftains (16–5) will open tournament play Tuesday night against 15th-seeded Belmont (2–18). Seneca (18–2) holds the top seed in the bracket, while De Soto (16–4) is third and Wauzeka–Steuben (17–4) fourth.
Potosi 85, Benton 49
(from Tuesday, Feb. 13 @ Potosi)
Benton 29 20 — 49
Potosi 44 41 — 85
Benton (13–8, 6–5) — Will Lawrence 5, Nathan Mowry 2, Dominick Cummings 2, Holden Murphy 3, Brooks Tiedeman 21, Wyatt Bastian 8, Caleb O’Neill 8. Totals — 16 6-10 49.
Potosi (15–5, 10–0) — Alex Udelhofen 6, Will Bierman 7, Brady Curtis 20, Jaydon Carbone 2, Ryan Kruser 7, Nic Spriggs 5, Austin Schmitz 3, Ethan Groom 12, Nick Edge 21, Alex Freese 2. Totals — 31-64 13-15 85.
3-point goals — B: 3 (Murphy 1, Bastian 2); P: 10 (Bierman 1, Curtis 2, Kruser 1, Spriggs 1, Schmitz 1, Groom 2, Edge 2). Team fouls — B: 12, P: 16. Fouled out — B: Bastian.
Potosi 67, Highland 28
(from Friday, Feb. 16 @ Potosi)
Highland 9 19 — 28
Potosi 39 28 — 67
Highland (5–16, 1–10) — Linscheid 8, Patzner 8, De Paola 7, Halverson 2, Yanna 2, Kutzke 1. Totals – 10-37 8-13 28.
Potosi (16–5, 11–0) — Brady Curtis 19, Alex Udelhofen 18, Ryan Kruser 8, Ethan Groom 6, Will Bierman 5, Nic Spriggs 4, Nick Edge 3, Jaydon Carbone 2, Kurt Ringberg-Cardey 2. Totals – 28-62 7-9 67.
3-point goals — H: 0, P: 4 (Curtis 1, Kruser 2, Bierman 1). Team fouls — H: 7, P: 12. Fouled out — none.