Waukesha West girls basketball coach Mark Busalacchi knew his team played well on Tuesday night against Classic 8 Conference foe Mukwonago. It just so happened Mukwonago played a little better down the stretch to win, 57-48.
The loss dropped West into a three-way tie for first place atop the Classic 8. The Wolverines can still be guaranteed at least a share of the Classic 8 title with a win over the other co-leader, Kettle Moraine, on Feb. 18.
West led at the half against the Indians, 22-21, and greatly limited Mukwonago's scoring at the end of the first half. For nearly 8minutes, West didn't allow a Mukwonago field goal and was propelled by Dani Rhodes' two 3-pointers with under two minutes remaining.
At the beginning of the second half, West came out strong, but Mukwonago wouldn't go away because of its solid defense, forcing 11 turnovers.
'(Mukwonago) got hot on us,' Busalacchi said. 'We were up seven (with 13 minutes, 7 seconds left in the second half) but then a minute later, we were down, it seemed like. They showed why at the beginning of the year when they were healthy that they're the No. 1 team in the state. The last 11 minutes they kind of showed that. They're just really, really good.'
Within less than two minutes, three different Mukwonago players hit 3-pointers. The third, by freshman Grace Beyer, tied the game at 34 with 10:43 remaining. Mukwonago gained a lead it would not surrender 42 seconds later off Bre Cera's basket in the lane.
Rhodes kept West in it with two baskets in the next minute that tied the game on two occasions, but Mukwonago began to break away with several small runs. West's Calli Delsman wouldn't let the Wolverines go out without a fight and drilled a three with 4:23 left to cut Mukwonago's lead to 46-43. Unfortunately for West, Mukwonago responded with a three of its own and ended the game on an 11-5 run.
Beyer led MHS with 19 points and hit four threes.
'The Beyer kid got red hot and I think she was 6 of 11 (from the floor),' Busalacchi said. 'That's what it comes down to sometimes: who's going to make shots and who's going to make plays, and they made them, especially the last 11 minutes. I thought they played fantastic. The last 11 minutes was the best team I've seen all year, for sure.'
During the team's first meeting, Cera was out with a hand injury and West was able to key in on Beyer and won, 59-53.
'The first time we were able to contain her and that was one of the things that helped us win that game,' Busalacchi said. 'This time we didn't. She got loose a couple times, and we lost her.'
Delsman finished with 11 points, four assists, three rebounds and made three 3-point shots. Rhodes was the team's leading scorer with 21 points and three 3-pointers. West's defense forced 13 turnovers and had 10 steals.
Heading into Thursday's test, KM, West and Mukwonago all have 11-2 league records. West hosts the Lasers in a 7:30 p.m. tilt, and Mukwonago will look to grab its own share of the title when it hosts Catholic Memorial one night earlier.
'It's a big game for both of us,' said Busalacchi. 'It's at our place, and that helps, and it's also senior night. We expect a tough game. That's the way it is in this conference.'
Elsewhere, Waukesha South's Emily Schumacher needed 13 points entering the week to reach 1,000 for her career. South was slated to visit Arrowhead on Thursday and open the WIAA playoffs Feb. 26 at Homestead.
The WIAA postseason brackets for girls basketball were released last week. All games at 7 p.m.
(11) Waukesha South at (6) Homestead, Feb. 26
(11) Waukesha North at (6) Cudahy, Feb. 23
(5) Catholic Memorial at (4) New Berlin West, Feb. 26
(2) Waukesha West vs. Whitnall/Bay View winner, Feb. 26