Arrowhead ends Nicolet girls season with sectional win

Knights come back after slow start in semifinal

March 20, 2012

Glendale - There will be a new champion in WIAA Division 1 girls basketball.

The Arrowhead girls basketball team hit 11-of-12 free throws in the fourth quarter and held off a second-half charge from defending state champion Nicolet, earning a 49-44 victory at Waukesha South in a March 15 sectional semifinal.

Jenny Smith scored 22 points, including two go-ahead free throws with 38.5 seconds to play that accounted for the eighth and final lead change of the fourth quarter. The senior All-State candidate also hauled in 12 rebounds.

It was a far cry from the 55-22 shellacking Nicolet dished out against Arrowhead at the same stage of the postseason last year.

"Losing by 33 at the end of the season was one of the worst feelings," Smith said. "We all decided that it was not going to happen again."

Second-seeded Nicolet graduated a trio of superb seniors from that squad last year but still brought a 21-3 record into the sectional, matching top-seeded Arrowhead's ledger. Brittney Fair, a junior starter on last year's state champion and one of the area's top scorers this year, scored nine points in the first four minutes of the second half to lift her team back into the game after Arrowhead had dominated the first half. She finished with 20.

"We knew there was a storm coming, but we've had a lot of close games this year, so we've been able to experience that and keep our composure," said Arrowhead coach Heidi Hamilton.

Arrowhead led at one point in the first half, 22-11, and took a nine-point lead into halftime. Until a basket in the final seconds, the Knights had as many points (11) as turnovers.

"I don't think we were focused," Nicolet coach Corey Wolf said. "We lost our focus in the first half; we were doing a lot of standing, a lot of reaching. Once we came out at halftime, we settled down a little bit and played our game.

"They take pride in their defense, and sometimes they need little reminders."

Message received. The Knights had two forced turnovers and five points in the first minute of the third quarter, and when Fair capped a personal 7-0 run with a steal and putback at the 4:10 mark of the third, Nicolet had grabbed a 29-27 lead.

The Warhawks clawed back to take a three-point lead after the third quarter, but Fair tied the game with a triple in the first 10 seconds of the fourth. That's when the back-and-forth began, with Jenny's sophomore sister Kelly Smith scoring six straight Arrowhead points at one point.

Nicolet took its last lead on a basket by Lanoira Duhart with 45 seconds left, 44-43, but the Warhawks scored the game's final six points at the free-throw line. Nicolet was penalized with offensive fouls at the 15-second mark as it looked for a go-ahead basket and again with 4 seconds left looking for a tie.

For the game, Arrowhead hit 18 of 21 from the charity stripe.

"We had been focused on this time since last March when we lost to them," Hamilton said. "To come back and beat them is just huge." Arrowhead lost to De Pere in the sectional final on Saturday.

For Wolf, it's an unusual feeling after last year's state title crusade.

"We know how Arrowhead feels about us; we know they were looking for a little revenge after their loss last year, we were well aware of that," she said. "And I thought they really took it at us in the first half. In the second half, we put a little more pressure on them defensively. Once we started hitting a couple, we went with it.

"They should be proud of themselves," she added of her Nicolet squad. "They kept setting the bar higher and higher. They kept pushing themselves to get better, they didn't settle. We hit a bump in the road when we lost three of four, and we didn't let that get us down. We have great captains, great seniors and the other kids follow their lead."

Courtney Smith added 10 points for Nicolet. Both Smith and Fair spent much of the fourth quarter with four fouls but did not leave the floor and did not pick up a fifth foul.

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