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Cats topple rivals on road

River Falls senior Aaron Baillargeon (24) drives past Hudson's Paul Sparstad in the first half of the Wildcat boys basketball team's 72-59 victory over the Raiders Friday, Jan. 26, in Hudson. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
River Falls freshman Zac Johnson (23) is fouled by Hudson's Paul Sparstad on a drive to the basket in the first half of the Wildcat boys basketball team's 72-59 victory over the Raiders Friday, Jan. 26, in Hudson. Johnson led all scorers with 25 points, including fie three-pointers. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Anytime you can get a win on the road in the Big Rivers Conference it's a good thing. When that win comes against a team that had won six of its last seven games it's even better. And when that win is over your archrival just 10 miles up the road in its packed home gym? It doesn't get much better than that.

That's what the Wildcat boys basketball team did last Friday night, Jan. 26, in Hudson, when it overcame a four-point halftime deficit to snap the Raiders' three-game winning streak, 72-59, and move to within a half-game of first place in the BRC.

"This was a quality win on a rival's homecourt," River Falls coach Zac Campbell said. "They had won six of seven since Christmas and are playing great basketball. For us to lose character in our gameplan in the first half and be able to regroup to our vision at halftime and execute was great to see from the boys."

With the win the Wildcats improved to 8-7 overall, 5-3 in the BRC, just behind conference co-leaders Rice Lake and Eau Claire North who are both 5-2. The Wildcats will host Menomonie Thursday, Feb. 1, before hosting Rice Lake Saturday, Feb. 3, at 7:15 p.m. at the high school.

Last week against Hudson the Cats shot 51 percent from the floor, hit nine three-pointers, outrebounded the Raiders 32-27 and blocked eight shots to snap a two-game losing streak.

"We really stayed on balance in the second half, which allowed us to make good decisions with the basketball," Campbell said. "Defensively we did a much better job of staying on the high side in the post, which really hurt us in the first half."

Freshman Zac Johnson accounted for five of the Wildcats' three-pointers on his way to leading all scorers with 25 points, but Campbell said his contributions went much deeper than that.

"Zac Johnson will get accolades for his ability to score the basketball, but as a coach who has seen him grow, I'm most proud of the completeness in his game he showed on Friday night," Campbell said.

Senior Jaxon Knotek posted a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds and blocked a team-high three shots.

"Jaxon did a great job as a secondary rebounder picking up some loose rebounds that he scrambled back in the play to go get," Campbell noted.

Junior Mike Vitt was the third Wildcat in double figures with 10 points.

"Mike Vitt played a couple great stretches for us through the game," Campbell said. "He is a great on-ball defender and has the ability to take the offense out of their system. When he is on balance attacking the hoop and taking care of the basketball, he gives us a great boost to our line-up."

Senior Adam Feyereisen scored just two points but was a factor in every other area, finishing with eight rebounds, seven assists, two blocked shots and two steals.

"Adam Feyereisen was asked to defend a lot in the post, something you don't often see your point guard do," Campbell said. "The competitiveness of Adam is something that goes a long way for our team."

Campbell said the next two games against Menomonie and Rice Lake will go far towards determining whether the Wildcats can stay in the race for the conference championship the final two weeks of the season.

"Thursday will be a big mental test for us as Menomonie is much better than their record suggests," he said. "When a team plays as hard, physical, and is as well coached as they are, you need to exceed their intensity and execute.

"Rice Lake is a senior-dominant team who provides top level athleticism and the ability to spread the floor and score it from everywhere," he added. "They are one of the top teams in our section this season. It is time for us to establish dominance on our home court that has eluded us the past month."

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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