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Basketball: Boys come up short in opener

Opening the season on the road against a St. Paul Johnson team was a great challenge for the Wildcat boys basketball team. Unfortunately they didn't get the result they wanted.

St. Paul Johnson used a pair of game-changing runs to erase an early Wildcat lead in the first half then pull away in the second half despite a 24-point, 16-rebound night from River Falls senior Jaxon Knotek.

"We got off to a strong start, leading by as much as ten in the first half with good pace and execution," Wildat coach Zac Campbell said. "Johnson really got us in two separate blitzes, one towards the end of the first half and another in the middle of the second half. Not being able to weather those couple minute runs and not learning from mistakes made over the course of the game determined the outcome."

Another factor in the game was turnovers. River Falls turned the ball over 20 times compared to four for the home team.

"The main result of our turnover margin was allowing Johnson to take 12 more attempts from the field and 10 more free throw attempts," Campbell noted. "Allowing a team an extra 22 opportunities to shoot the basketball isn't going to allow you to win many games."

Ryan Spafford added 16 points and five rebounds for the Wildcats but no other player scored more than five. Spafford also blocked a pair of shots.

"Ryan Spafford did a great job of finishing from multiple angles in the interior and Jaxon really rebounded outside of his zone well on Tuesday," Campbell said.

Despite the turnover issues, guards Adam Feyereisen and Aaron Baillargeon recorded nine assists and just three turnovers between them.

"Johnson is a great team for us to start out with as they force you to play at such a quick pace that it slows down the game for us with other competition," Campbell said.

Campbell said if there is such a thing as a huge week in early December, this week is it. The Cats hosted Hudson this past Tuesday and will visit Menomonie Friday, Dec. 8, for a pair of crucial Big Rivers Conference matchups.

"Having Hudson at our place and turning around and playing a conference and sectional foe at Menomonie while trying to learn about each other puts a lot of pressure to perform at a high level while still establish a personal and team identity," he said. "We need to improve on our controllables such as communication, energy, and enthusiasm in order for us to play at a high level. This, as much as anything, is so key to our early season success."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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