Nicolet girls basketball coach Rick Dekeyser loved the way his team fought back in the fourth quarter Friday night against North Shore leader Cedarburg, how it's press forced turnovers, how the Knights hit five of their first six shots, and finally showed some life on the boards.
What he didn't like was the first three quarters, where the taller, younger and quicker Bulldogs dominated the glass, intimidated the smaller Knights into poor shot selection and generally pushed them around.
It was 38-14 going into the final stanza, so the fact that Nicolet got the final score to 44-32 was only of small consolation to Dekeyser, as the Knights lost out on a chance to tie for first place in the league with the Bulldogs.
"The thing was, we worked all week on certain things," he said. "We knew we were shorter so we put big emphasis on blocking out and pushing people back. I just didn't think I saw much of that for the first three quarters."
"I love these girls, but sometimes...."
With the loss, Nicolet drops to 8-4 in the North Shore (11-8 overall),and into a three-way tie for second place with Germantown and Whitefish Bay. Coupled with the Bay loss to Grafton tonight, Cedarburg actually clinched no worse than a tie for the NSC title at 10-2 (14-4 overall).
The game, which was broadcast on an area cable channel, brought the best in Bulldog coach Dave Ross, with a rarely seen suit, tie and all. And for much of the second and third quarters, the youthful Cedarburg team, which starts three sophomores and a freshman, brought its best to the big stage too.
Nicolet started well, getting baskets from Michelle Peltz and Briana Gray for a 4-0 lead, but then the Bulldogs, whose starters go 5-10, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2, and 5-8, started imposing their will.
It was 6-6 at the quarter but a 12-2 run at the start of the second session, highlighted by a three-point play from the Builldogs' lone senior Tori Riechers and a 3-pointer from sophomore guard Kendall Lynch, made it 18-8 Cedarburg with 3:31 left in the half.
The score was 24-12 at the break.
Nicolet and Cedarburg then traded baskets at the start of the third quarter, but the hoop by Gray at the 6:33 mark of the third period would prove to be the last points for close to seven minutes for the Knights as Cedarburg, which collected an impressive 41 rebounds on the night, went on 12-0 run to make it 38-14 at the end of three.
For Nicolet,the third quarter was a nightmare as shots were missed (14 of 15), only two rebounds were grabbed (as opposed to nine for Cedarburg) and everytime a Knight player went into the lane, she was met with rejection. The Bulldogs 6-2 freshman center Allie Barber was the ultimate symbol of rejection, with at least four blocks and many other shots influenced. She also had 13 rebounds.
"We tried to tell the kids not to be afraid of this moment, don't be frightened, don't let it go," said Dekeyser. "It just didn't work."
Nicolet started a mini-rally early in the fourth period, as a 12-1 run cut it to 39-26 with 5:11 remaining, but then the Bulldogs scored four points in the span of just 21 seconds and the Knights went close to three minutes without another basket.
Ross was impressed with how his team adapted and improved its offensive execution.
"In those two quarters (second and third) I thought we had some really good passing," he said. "We have good, big kids, but we still have to make the pass and when we needed them, the kids made passes and made plays."
Gray led Nicolet with 12 points, while Riechers had 14 to pace Cedarburg and Kylee Marks had 10.
Ross knew that it was a big game, an important one and he was pleased to come away with the victory.
"Every coach in this league knows that it has to be one game at a time," he said, "because every night, you see everybody beating everybody else. So for us to come out with this win was huge."
Dekeyser was just hoping that his ever-striving team could have put in a better effort.
"It was an important game," he said. "We just didn't step up to where we needed to be."
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