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Basketball: Cats streak snapped at three

After a big 75-67 victory over a very good D.C. Everest team Thursday, Dec. 28, the Wildcat boys basketball team dropped a one-point game to host Tomah in the second game of the Tomah Holiday Tournament Friday, Dec. 29.

The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Wildcats and puts them at 6-3 overall heading into a Big Rivers Conference home tilt with Eau Claire Memorial Friday, Jan. 5. River Falls, Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire North and Rice Lake are all bunched at the top of the BRC standings with one conference loss apiece.

Wildcat coach Zac Campbell said last Thursday's victory over a larger D.C. Everest team was good for the Cats.

"They have two very good guards who were the key for us to contain as each of them are averaging over 20 points a game," he said. "Between the two of them they combined for a total of 40 points, however, it took them 36 field goal attempts to get to that total which gave us a big advantage."

Four Wildcats scored in double digits, led by Jaxon Knotek with 20 points. Mike Vitt added 12 and Zac Johnson scored 11 while Adam Feyereisen contributed 10.

Seven of the nine players who saw action for River Falls shot above 50 percent in the win as the Cats shot 45.1 percent from the field while going 26-of-33 from the free throw line.

"When you can receive this type of production up and down your lineup it speaks volumes to the type of actions you are getting offensively and the amount of weapons we have as a team when we spread the floor and play together," Campbell said.

Vitt pulled down a team-high eight rebounds and dished out five assists and the Wildcats committed just 12 turnovers compared to 17 for the Evergreens.

"As is the case with most teams, when we win the rebound and turnover battles, there aren't many teams that we can't beat and that was a driving force to this win against a quality opponent," Campbell said. "Our guard trio of Adam Feyereisen, Mike Vitt, and Payton Flood continue to give us great defensive production. Mike Vitt played his most complete game of the year for us."

Friday against host Tomah, Taylor Tirrel hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds left to give the Wildcats a one-point lead but Tomah got the game-winner just before the buzzer to pull out a 46-45 win.

"Offensively we have made important plays in crunch time all season, but this game it was going to take an important defensive stop to steal a victory on the road," Campbell noted. "Unfortunately we allowed their point guard to turn the corner on a ball screen and get too deep into our defense. To his credit he pivoted himself to an angle to finish his attempt to win the game."

Campbell said the Cats failed to take advantage when Tomah's 6-9 post player picked up his second foul early in the game.

"Unfortunately for us we missed a number of good looks which we have finished with regularity throughout the year and Tomah really took the air out of the ball and tried to slow pace with their top offensive option in foul trouble," he said.

Campbell said the Cats tried to speed things up and pressure Tomah's guards but it resulted in sending Tomah to the free throw line 28 times compared to just 14 for the Wildcats.

Knotek was the lone Wildcat in double figures with 11 points but Campbell said a number of Cats hit key baskets.

"Aaron Baillargeon and Taylor Tirrel stepped up and hit a couple important three point shots for us in a night we struggled to finish good looks," he said. "And Adam Feyereisen played a key role in limiting their top guard well below his season average while totaling eight assists and zero turnovers.

"Nights like this happen to every team," Campbell added. "The value of doing all of the other things right when shots aren't falling are so pivotal to winning these types of games and stretching out leads against good teams when shots are falling. We've been able to get away with some of our ills of discipline and toughness due to having a number of guys who can score the basketball this year. As much as this game hurts, we needed this message sent and I look forward to seeing our boys take this to heart and progress as a team in these areas moving forward."

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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