When the Lake Mills boys basketball program started practice last fall, it didn’t even look like a complete team.
In many ways, it still doesn’t. But now, the sharpshooting L-Cats are headed to the WIAA state tournament for the first time in school history.
Not bad for a team that lists all five starters as guards, none of whom stands taller than 6-foot-1.
“We just knew we were going to have to play a little bit differently,” fifth-year coach Steve Hicklin said. “We couldn’t play through the post like we did last year. It was a process to figure out how we were going to play on offense and defense.”
The WIAA Division 3 state semifinal game between Lake Mills (24-2) and Prescott (23-3) will tip off 1:35 p.m. today at the Kohl Center. Hicklin said the lack of post presence won’t hurt the L-Cats’ chances — even though Prescott’s top scorer is 7-1 Owen Hamilton, a Northern Illinois recruit.
“We’re going to try and use our quickness and our intelligence,” Hicklin said. “The thing I always say with big guys is, ‘They have to guard one of us, too.’ ”
As the season has progressed, so has the L-Cats’ offense. Using the guards to spread the floor, the team usually is able to open up the lane and create paths to drive to the basket. This tasks opposing defenders with a difficult decision: defend against the drive or stay outside to keep a hand in the face of 3-point shooters.
“When you have five guys that are all capable of beating you off the dribble (and) all capable of hitting the 3, there are not a lot of places to give help on the floor,” Hicklin said. “So we’re putting teams in tough spots. They don’t know who not to guard, and that’s been kind of fun once we get it rolling.”
The L-Cats have put up 700 3-point attempts this season — about 35 percent of their shots. Their 3-point percentage of .401 is fourth in the 20-team state tournament field.
Senior Brady Wagner (91-for-197) and junior Hayden Iverson (87-for-195) each are hitting at about 45 percent from 3-point range. Senior Alex Ranney (19.8 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game) leads the team in all three categories.
“This is the most fun year I’ve had playing basketball, playing on the floor with everybody who can shoot and score,” said Ranney, who scored his 1,000th career point on March 9. “If we have an open 3, it’s most likely going in. Not many teams have that.”
Although Wagner and Iverson have filled the stat sheet from long range, Ranney had the most important 3-pointer this season in last Saturday’s sectional final.
After Adams-Friendship senior guard Donnell Kelly banked in a mid-range jumper to tie the game at 47 with under 10 seconds left, Ranney dribbled up court and hit a 3-pointer to win the game.
“When I brought the ball up, they were kind of scrambling,” Ranney said. “My first thought was take it to the rim and get a shot up, but then they sank back, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to pull this, I’ve got to make something happen.’ ”
Ranney said Lake Mills’ defense will be just as important to getting a state semifinal win today.
“The biggest thing for us to be successful is to play defense as a unit,” Ranney said. “It’s not one-on-one, or one of our guys vs. one of their guys. It’s their team versus our team.
“We (have to) just play our game and go out and have fun. Enjoy the moment.”