Pius absorbs Nicolet's initial outburst
Popes move to final of Rathke Memorial Tournament
Franklin — Had fans walked out after the first 4 minutes believing the outcome was in hand, it would have been difficult to argue against them.
The Nicolet girls basketball team, the No. 1 team in the state and in the Journal Sentinel area rankings, gave spectators little reason to believe it would be knocked off its perch minutes after tipping off against No. 2 Milwaukee Pius. The Knights dominated in transition, the boards and in the paint en route to a double-digit lead through 3 ½ minutes Tuesday.
But Pius refused to fold, got active defensively, scored from the outside, in and eventually came back to upend Nicolet, 67-63, to advance to the championship game of the Christine Rathke Memorial Tournament. The championship, against Franklin, is Wednesday afternoon.
"We said in the locker room (before the game) we're sure they will come out and be jacked up and we could be down 10 before we know it, but I didn't think it would happen," Pius coach Scott Herrick said with a smile. "The kids never batted and eyelash. They kept playing and following the game plan, and before you know it we had a tie."
Nicolet (7-1) built a 15-4 lead with 4:29 remaining in the first quarter. Six-foot-five center Alex Cohen dominated the paint and even nailed a three-pointer from the wing. She controlled the middle on defense, picking up two early blocks that led to transition buckets.
That quick lead started to disintegrate with 4 minutes left in the quarter after Pius forward Ally Matkovich scored inside, was fouled and converted the free throw. That was the start of what eventually snowballed into a 20-3 run to end the quarter, putting Pius (8-0) in front, 24-18.
Much of that run was done with Cohen on the bench, but even her return to the floor couldn't shift momentum back to Nicolet. Pius engaged on defensive, played the passing lanes, forced turnovers and limited Nicolet to one shot, finally crashing the defensive glass.
"It was our defense," said Matkovich, who led Pius with 17 points. "We played tougher."
The Knights were never able to make a run of their own, relying almost strictly on guard Ashley Green for offense. Green scored 20 of Nicolet's 33 second-half points and finished with a game-high 30.
"When they started hitting those shots, outside shots, it kind of flustered us," Nicolet coach Corey Wolf said. "We got out of our rhythm, and we let it affect us defensively. I think our kids just really shut down defensively."
Franklin 62, Oshkosh Lourdes 57: After being down early, the Sabers were able to knock down shots and created more transition opportunities to advance to the championship.
Sophomore guard Cassidy Mihalko led the Franklin (7-2) with 18 points, and junior forward Mariah Hill added 15. Forward Teenie Lichtfuss led Lourdes with 18.
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