Knights dial up the defense
Girls basketball team shares lead in North Shore Conference
Nicolet — Girls basketball coach Corey Bronson Wolf knows that Grafton didn't win two of the last three WIAA State Division 2 championships by being anything less than bullish on defense.
And Wolf and the Knights were happy to imitate the host Blackhawks in the most sincere fashion Friday night holding them to just 10 points over the final 12 minutes of the game in pulling away for a 59-38 North Shore Conference victory.
"We knew that they would be difficult," said Wolf, "and they present such unique problems. First off, you can't overestimate the value of the experience they got going to state and winning that state championship. Something like that just makes them tough.
"And they play such good defense," he said. "We have our moments, but we want to be like that all the time."
The win improved the Knights, who shared the North Shore title with the Blackhawks last season, to 3-0 in league play and 5-1 overall, while Grafton fell to 1-2 and 2-3, respectively. Nicolet remains in a tie for the North Shore lead with surprising Germantown (3-0, 8-0).
"You just have to be ready for them (the Blackhawks) all the time," said junior guard Ashley Green, who scored 16 of her 20 points in the second half. "Even with all those players they lost (to graduation), they're always tough."
Foul trouble keeps it close
That much was true even though Nicolet never trailed in the game. They had a 12-2 lead early, but with foul trouble dogging Knight starters Gaby Bronson, Alex Cohen and even Green herself, the Blackhawks held close in the second, drawing to within six at one point.
Sophomore point guard Courtney Smith and shooting guard Brittney Fair were frequently the only starters on the floor in the second quarter for the Knights.
"Courtney plays such solid defense, and she has a very calming effect on her teammates," Wolf said. "She really takes a lot of pressure off people."
The pressure was still on in the third quarter, as a Kaitlyn Brandenburg 3-pointer drew the Blackhawks to within 30-28 with 4:56 left, but that's when Green, who had nine points in the period, went to work.
She first hit a layup, then finished a 3-point play after gracefully grabbing an offensive rebound in traffic, and then after a Grafton basket, she took a neat inbounds pass from Smith and converted the shot to make it 37-29. Grafton would get no closer than six after that.
Turnovers close out game
Nicolet's defense forced nine fourth quarter turnovers out of the Blackhawks as the Knights went on a 14-0 run to put the game away.
Fair added 14 while Cohen and Smith had seven apiece for Nicolet.
Wolf was impressed by Green's effort.
"Grafton's defense shut down the openings in the first half," said Wolf, "but Ashley adjusted well in the second half. She went looking for her shot a little more."
"We had a slow first half," Green said, "but then we came out a lot harder in the second. Beating these guys is always important. From here on out, we'll compete as hard as we can because we want that conference championship."
The North Shore Conference leading Nicolet Knights head down to Florida for major tournament
WHAT: After heavy-duty fundraising, the Knights are set to go down to the KSA Holiday Basketball Tournament at the Disney Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. They will play games Dec. 27, 29 and 30. Their first game is slated to be against Jackson Memorial from New Jersey. In its eight-team bracket, Nicolet will also have teams from Florida, New York and Ohio. Participants are guaranteed three games.
HOW THEY DID IT: Fundraisers over the last 18 months included a middle school basketball tourney, a car wash, two golf outings and a Community Day Sale at Boston Store. All told, about $18,000 was raised to help accommodate the 30 people that will travel to Orlando.
COACH WOLF: "It was a great experience for the girls to work together and raise the money. It should be a lot of fun."
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