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The size and interior tenacity of the Whitefish Bay girls basketball team was too much for Wauwatosa West in a WIAA Division 2 playoff game Friday night at Bay. Despite hitting nine 3-point shots, the Trojans fell to the Dukes, 56-40, and Bay advanced to face Wauwatosa East on Feb. 25.

“We try to get layups or threes,” West coach Gordon Nikolic said. “We got to the hoop a couple of times, but their size bothered us. Our biggest kid is 5-9½ so we had a hard time getting to the hoop against this team. We shot the three ball well all year; we go inside outside.”

The Trojans started the game just as planned with consecutive threes from Irene Phillips and Libbi Fassbender to open with a 6-0 lead. The Dukes responded with layups from Ellie Clements and Elise Whitmoyer, and a two-pointer from Mia Brower to tie it at 6. Later in the half, Bay opened a 22-12 lead after three consecutive baskets from the sophomore Clements. Two of those baskets were layups from the baseline.

"That’s my favorite spot to shoot from,” she said. “I work a lot on that. I’m able to elevate and get up, so they’re pretty easy shots for me. Coach has helped me work on my shot a lot this year. In the beginning of the year, it was really flat, and I wasn’t nearly as high of a percentage shooter as I am now. He’s given me confidence in my outside shot.”

Staring down a 10-point deficit, the Trojans responded with a four-point possession. Cheri’A Adams hit the first of two free throws. She missed the second, but Tosa collected the rebound for a three-pointer. After a basket from Bay’s Emma Gunderson, the Trojans rounded out the half with four free throws and went into the half down, 24-20, but with the momentum.

The Dukes went on a 12-point run to start the second half, and Whitefish Bay coach John Schneider was pleased with his team’s response after halftime.

“Tosa went on a huge run on the last 3 minutes of the first half,” he said, “so they had all the energy, they had all the momentum. Our whole halftime talk was about us putting a run on them, responding. Our theme since the beginning of January has been respond. It started with great defensive stops, but then we were incredibly disciplined against their zone, and we able to get layups out of it, which was what we had been practicing all week.”

Tosa West kept pace with the Dukes the rest of the way, but the Trojans were never able to overcome their poor start to the second half.

“We just went cold for a few stretches there,” Nikolic said. “At the start of the second half, we went really cold. They made some baskets, they handled our pressure, so they deserved to win the game. We’ve never faced a team with four or five 5-11 or bigger girls. (Schneider) plays three of them together out there, and we never saw more than two. We tried to space and attack; they were just so long that we couldn’t get the offensive board the defensive board. They were just too big for us. The only chance we had was knocking down some threes, trading threes for twos. We average 56 points a game, and that would have won it tonight, I think.”

Schneider added, “We had practiced all week knowing that they shoot a lot of threes. They’ve attempted over 500 on the season, so we knew coming in that they either like to drive and get layups, or they drive and if it’s taken away, they kick out and they shoot threes. I felt like our closeouts were decent, but we gave them a little too much space, especially early in the first half, and they hit. They probably hit 50 percent in the first half, and it went down a little bit in the second half because they were trying to play catch up. They shot the ball well. Even when we were semi-contested, they weren’t afraid to shoot, and we knew that was going to be the way that they could beat us. Knowing that we were bigger and deeper than them, we knew that they would have to shoot threes in order to keep up. Luckily, we were able to kind of tire them out and wear them down in the second half.”

The Trojans will have the majority of their team back next season and will look to continue to improve.

“We’ve got only three kids that are graduating,” Nikolic said, “so we’ve got 70 percent of our roster back. Defensively, we should be getting some kids that are longer, so that should help us out. It was a fun year, and Whitefish Bay deserves the victory tonight.”

The Blue Dukes will now get their shot at second-seeded Wauwatosa East, who defeated the Trojans earlier in the year, and Clements is looking forward to it.

“I think we just need to bring it and I’m excited to play them because they’re an evenly matched team with us, so I think it should be a really good game, and I really want to win it. We’ve been looking forward to this all year.”

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