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Boys' basketball: Strong start for Cats

Wildcat boys' basketball coach Zac Campbell knows first games are never as clean as you would like. But if the opener against St. Paul Johnson Friday night, Nov. 30, is any indication, the Cats are in for a fun season.

Sophomore Zac Johnson poured in 32 points and grabbed seven rebounds and 6-foot-8 twin brothers JT and Liam Dougherty came off the bench to combine for 18 points and seven boards as the Wildcats beat St. Paul Johnson for the first time in three years, 69-43.

"It was great to get back into game day," Campbell said. "The first game of the year is never as clean as you'd like it to be and we certainly have adjustments to make, but if this is truly our starting point to our growth this season we have the opportunity to play with teams at the top our section by seasons end."

Aside from a five-minute stretch midway through the first half the Wildcats dominated the game, especially on the defensive end. River Falls held St. Paul Johnson to 18-of-62 shooting from the floor while out rebounding them 43-29.

"Early season practices have not been as smooth for us with our slides and reads defensively," Campbell noted. "But Friday night was the best we've seen our group on that end of the court this season. We have to make adjustments based off of who we play, and with Johnson's speed and athleticism it was a group effort to keep the ball from getting to the paint off the bounce."

The Wildcats built a 38-29 lead at the break before outscoring the Governors 31-14 in the second half.

"Offensively we were not good in the first half as we lost flow and execution with their pressure," Campbell said. "We were able to build a lead on Zac Johnson bailing us out with his shot-making ability. But this cannot be something we rely on through Big Rivers play and will need to clean up our action and attention to detail."

Campbell said the Cats executed much better in the second half, noting JT and Liam Dougherty contributed at both ends of the floor.

"I get a lot of comments on how nice it must be to have 6-8 sophomores for the next three years," the coach said. "But what is lost in people getting caught up in their height is how hard they work, how much time they put in, and how coachable they are. Height is a number, and unless you are committed to being a great basketball player height does not get you there."

JT Dougherty finished with 10 points and five rebounds while Liam Dougherty had eight points, two rebounds and one blocked shot.

Senior Mike Vitt contributed six points, six rebounds and two steals in the win while point guard Adam Feyereisen had six points, eight rebounds, nine assists and two steals.

"We take for granted all the things that Adam Feyereisen does for us, but this was a very typical Adam game in that he took care of the basketball against pressure, held their best player to 4-of-16 shooting, led us in rebounding and had a ridiculous assist to turnover ratio," Campbell said.

Campbell said the play of senior Taylor Tirrel, who grabbed five rebounds, was also crucial to the win.

"Taylor Tirrel does a great job of taking rebound threats out of the play," he said. "His numbers won't show how important he is to our rebound game as he clears space for others to secure the rebound."

The Wildcats will travel to Hudson, who has averaged over 90 points while off to a 2-0 start this season, Friday, Dec. 7, and Campbell said the Wildcats will have their hands full.

"Hudson is a team that I feel has the most talent of any team in our league, top to bottom," he said. "Their athleticism is off the charts and they pair a couple hard nosed kids to compliment their athleticism. For us to be able to compete with them we will have to defend to the best of our ability and have further offensive development this week. The atmosphere should be great, as it always is, but with this rivalry game being their opener in their new gym, it will likely take on added intensity."

Following the Hudson game the Cats will face La Crosse Logan for the first time ever Tuesday, Dec. 11, at home.

"Games such as St. Paul Johnson are so key to us to be able to face teams like Hudson and Logan as they all have speed, pace and have athletes all over the court," he noted. "While this is a non-conference game, the importance this brings come seeding in March is very high."

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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