Mukwonago holds off Memorial's rally
Like the sizable band embedded within the loud and enormous Beloit Memorial student section, the Purple Knights basketball team seemed to hit its crescendo as the game moved closer to its final moments. But in the end, it was the familiar refrain as the Mukwonago boys basketball team qualified for the sectional final for a third consecutive season.
Mukwonago built a 24-point lead in the first half, and though Beloit Memorial whittled that advantage to 6 points and rode a wave of momentum that made the Indians nervous, MHS emerged from the Lake Geneva Badger gymnasium with a 60-48 victory Thursday night.
"We made a few mistakes when we were in that zone; we left some open holes," said Mukwonago senior Aaron Nixon, who was a key player for a team that lost in the sectional final to Madison Memorial two years ago and topped Memorial en route to the state final last year. "But when they have a crowd that big and hit some shots with momentum. … There's not much you can do when they're hitting those deep shots and the crowd is getting behind them."
Nixon led Mukwonago with 15 points, and Dominic Cizauskas added 11. Cizuaskas had two steals and two assists in a 16-0 run to open the second quarter that put Mukwonago in charge, 26-4, and the lead was 32-7 when Koy Brecklin hit the first of two 3-pointers on the night.
When Brecklin hit the other with 1:54 to play, it was huge, a shot from the corner that gave his team a 54-44 lead after Memorial got as close as 50-44.
"In the fourth quarter, it was funny to watch possessions break down," Mukwonago coach Jim Haasser said. "Not checking guys, guys getting a free run to the rim on rebounds."
It came on the heels of what Haasser considered his team's best defensive half of basketball this season.
"We were switching them up, keeping them guessing, long possessions," Haasser said. "They want to go, go, go, with short possessions … we had to keep our energy up, force the pass, talk to each other, and I thought it was really, really good. I can't think of more than one bad possession where we just didn't get enough rim coverage."
Mukwonago also scored the first seven points of the game and registered five offensive rebounds on its first six missed shots. Overall, Mukwonago won the rebounding battle, 33-22.
"We were just getting it down into the post and had nice cuts," Nixon said. "We watched film. Their weak side defense didn't pay attention to the cutters going behind them, so we just focused on that."
Nixon, who hit three of the free throws in his team's 7 for 8 performance from the charity stripe within the final 2:47, said his team remained positive even as the momentum shifted to the other side.
"We knew they'd make a run," Nixon said. "We'd beaten them the last three years, and last year they made a run just like that. They started to come back at the end. … For a little while, they just outhustled us, but they made some really tough shots."
Speedy point guard Draylen Fair was the catalyst for Memorial, racking up 24 points, including 9 on his high-arc shots from beyond the arc. Leading scorer Andre Neal added 11. Their run was all the more impressive considering 6-6 senior Armann Cabrera had four fouls before halftime and fouled out with 2:26 left to play in the third quarter.
Mukwonago (17-8) will next face Sun Prairie (17-8) in Burlington for a 1 p.m. battle Saturday. Sun Prairie, a team led by Marquette University recruit Nick Noskowiak (20.1 ppg), defeated Verona on Thursday in double overtime, 54-53. Verona had eliminated Madison Memorial in a regional-final stunner March 1.
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