For long stretches on Feb. 2, the Nicolet girls basketball team didn't look like an 0-18 squad at all, hitting six 3-pointers in the first half, taking an early lead on rival and host Whitefish Bay, and generally making a large nuisance of itself to the favored Blue Dukes.
But Bay found its mojo in the second half, breaking open a 40-36 game at the 8:30 mark with a 14-0 run that finally put away the plucky Knights in a 58-42 North Shore Conference decision.
"It's one of those games where you don't want to take an opponent too lightly," said Bay coach Jon Schneider. "I give a ton of credit to Nicolet. They played hard and they hit their shots early. I didn't think our defensive discipline was the greatest throughout the game. We didn't look very sharp,
"But I don't want to take anything away from Nicolet. Their coaches are doing a great job with those kids. They're getting better and better."
First-year Knights coach Megan Lund appreciated the compliment, but noted that there is still a ways to go for a young squad that is small physically and in numbers.
"Our effort is part of what we have talked about since the beginning of the season, of what we want Nicolet basketball to look like in the future," she said. "It's part of a culture of coming to practice and working hard, and the kids have done that. They've had a fantastic work ethic and a very positive attitude. There's great chemistry in this group."
The win improved the Blue Dukes to 7-4 in the North Shore and assured them of a winning record for the season at 12-7 overall.
They visited league leading and state-ranked Germantown on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and then will visit Milwaukee Lutheran at 5:45 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10 at 5:45. The Knights, meanwhile, will have a challenging week as they hosted league runner-up Cedarburg on Feb. 7 and now will visit third-place Homestead on Friday, Feb. 10.
Lund and the Knights will try to build on the effort of the first 27 minutes or so against Bay.
They used a zone defense to try and confound the Blue Dukes, and actually had an 11-6 lead at the 11:40 mark of the half on back-to-back 3-pointers from Laura Keyser and Casey O'Hare. Bay went on an 8-0 surge to take a 14-11 lead but Nicolet wouldn't go away, closing the deficit to 29-26 at the break on another 3 from O'Hare with 39 seconds left.
Two free throws from Jaya Williams closed the gap to 29-28 at the start of the second half, but that was as close as Bay would allow Nicolet to get.
The Blue Dukes closed out defensively, as Nicolet registered no more 3-point baskets in the second half.
It was still 40-36 Bay when the Blue Dukes made their big push as turnovers led to easy baskets for Bailey Faulkner and Emma Gunderson to get things started.
A quick timeout by Lund couldn't stop things as Lauren Behnke, one of four seniors being celebrated by Bay that night, closed out the run with a trey at the 4:58 mark to make it 54-36, effectively finishing the game. The much taller Blue Dukes were all over the offensive boards all evening long.
O'Hare hit four 3s in the game and led Nicolet with 12 points while Keyser hit two 3s and finished with 10, and Jaya Williams contributed nine.
"Bay did a nice job defensively in the second half," said Lund. "We figured that they would work very hard not to give us any more 3s. But this group (the Knights) will continue working. I look forward to practice every single day."
Bay had nine players score led by post Elise Whitmoyer and guard Ali Menard with 14 points apiece while Ellie Clements had seven.
"We're not the greatest outside shooting team so their zone gave us some problems in the beginning," said Schneider. "Elise (Whitmoyer) did a good job of crashing the boards and finishing strong, which is what we need her to do and Ali (Menard) didn't look sharp in the beginning but she stayed very active."