DeFOREST — Coming out of the halftime locker room, Jaxson Zibell and his teammates could have been forgiven for caving to the pressure of the moment.
Locked in a tie game with archrival DeForest, the Waunakee boys basketball team had 18 minutes to either clinch a share of the Badger North title or watch its chance at an outright conference crown potentially slip away.
Instead of fading, the Warriors responded with a little pressure of their own.
“At halftime, we just talked about making them play faster,” Zibell said. “A lot of the stuff in the first half, we were playing to their tempo. We started playing faster, pressing more, and Coach told us that if that happened, we’d get a lot of open looks.”
Zibell and Caden Hough hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a 10-0 run in the middle of the second half, and the Warriors completed a season sweep of the Norskies with a 79-71 road victory Tuesday night.
“We shoot a lot more 3s than the teams we’ve had in the past,” longtime Waunakee coach Dana MacKenzie said. “We thought it was a matter of time, if we got the bodies moving and the ball moving, that we’d get those open looks.”
Zibell scored 15 points, including a team-best three 3-pointers. Caden Nelson finished with a team-high 22 points for Waunakee.
Tied at 27 after the first 20 minutes, the game could have gone either way. DeForest coach Craig Weisbrod admitted the ensuing outside onslaught caught his team a bit off-guard.
“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Weisbrod said. “I think we just got caught on some bad closeouts and some bad rotations. You’ve got to give them credit, though. They knocked those shots down.
“We’re looking over on the bench going, ‘OK, they’re going to miss one, right?’”
Despite a game-high 23 points and some timely answers from DeForest sophomore wing Max Weisbrod, the Warriors (16-4 overall, 11-1 Badger North) stretched the lead to as many as 20 points with just over 5½ minutes left.
“They have a lot of shooters so I thought they’d get hot, but I didn’t think they’d get that hot,” Weisbrod said. “I felt like we missed a lot of bunnies, had a lot of opportunities to score and I felt like we didn’t really handle their pressure that well.”
The Norskies (13-6, 9-3) chipped away at the lead in the final minutes, cutting the deficit to single digits on a 3-pointer from senior wing Trey Schroeder with less than 3 minutes to go. Waunakee’s advantage hovered around 10 points the rest of the way.
DeForest’s Jahyl Bonds hit a late 3 before Waunakee’s Casey Fischer hit a pair of free throws to close it out and effectively eliminate the hosts from conference title contention.
“That was one of our big goals, but we’re trying not to let that ruin the other goals we have,” Max Weisbrod said of his squad’s league title hopes.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are trying not to get ahead of themselves now that a share of the Badger North is secure.
“It’s on to the next one,” Nelson said. “That’s awesome. It’s special. It’s kind of always been a dream of me and the rest of the team, I know for sure, but we’ve still got two more games to play.”
Waunakee 27 52 — 79
DeForest 27 44 — 71
WAUNAKEE (fg ft-fta pts) — Nelson 4 13-16 22, Driscoll 1 0-0 3, Zibell 5 2-2 15, Hough 2 0-0 5, May 0 0-2 0, Dotzler 2 0-0 6, Fischer 2 5-5 11, Keller 6 4-9 17. Totals 22 24-34 79.
DeFOREST — Bonds 2 0-0 6, Weisbrod 9 0-0 23, Grundahl 1 0-0 2, Schroeder 6 2-4 18, Hawk 3 1-2 7, Magli 3 0-0 6, Hartig 3 3-4 9. Totals 27 6-10 71.
3-point goals: W 11 (Zibell 3, Dotzler 2, Fischer 2, Nelson 1, Driscoll 1, Hough 1, Keller 1); D 11 (Weisbrod 5, Schroeder 4, Bonds 2). Total fouls: W 11; D 22.
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