Just when it appeared Bellevue West might have a shot at an undefeated season, Millard West changed all that Saturday night.
The Wildcats dealt the Thunderbirds their first loss, prevailing 67-63 in overtime. That setback, along with Class C-1 Pierce’s loss Thursday night at Class C-2 Crofton, leaves the defending C-2 champion Warriors as the only unbeaten team in the state.
Those who saw Bellevue West easily handle the Wildcats in the final of the Metro holiday tournament Jan. 3 probably were surprised by that final from Millard West, so let’s take a closer look at how coach Kip Colony’s squad was able to avenge that loss.
>> The Wildcats were playing at home.
Never underestimate home-court advantage, and Millard West had it Saturday night. It was a much more familiar environment for the Wildcats than the Civic Auditorium, where the Holiday final was played.
>> A closer first quarter.
The Wildcats scored 16 points in the first quarter of the holiday tourney final and still found themselves trailing Bellevue West by 10. Saturday night’s game was tied after the first and Millard West led 27-18 at halftime.
>> Getting to the line.
This is probably the biggest difference between the two games and a big key to the Wildcats’ victory. They shot just one free throw in the loss to Bellevue West but converted 24 of 32 Saturday night.
The Thunderbirds sank 7 of 11 free throws in the first game and 9 of 14 in the rematch.
>> Bellevue West’s outside shooting.
The Thunderbirds haven’t been hitting their 3-pointers the way they were earlier. Bellevue West was 6 of 25 from behind the arc Saturday night.
>> Increased production from the Millard West guards.
The trio of Samantha Waldron, Brooke Savage and Paige Phipps combined for 34 points in the first game and 53 in the rematch. Waldron scored a game-high 24 and Phipps was money from the foul line in overtime, sinking 7 of 8.
>> The Wildcats’ resilience.
Though Millard West trimmed a 20-point deficit to nine at the holiday tourney, Bellevue West never seemed in danger of losing. The Wildcats led most of the game Saturday, but the Thunderbirds tied it in the closing seconds on a 3-pointer by Madi Braun.
That was gut-check time for Millard West, and Colony’s team responded in overtime. Bellevue West never led in the four-minute OT, and the Wildcats scored 14 points to clinch the win.
>> The revenge factor.
After losing to a team in the final of the holiday tourney, who can blame the Wildcats for being amped up for the rematch? Especially at home against a team that had yet to taste defeat.
Saturday, Colony talked about the differences between the games.
“I think we came out kind of tentative that first time,” he said. “But when we cut that big deficit down to nine points, I think that gave our girls a certain level of confidence. We knew we could play with them.”
Bellevue West coach Marc Kruger also said he was proud of the way his team fought back in defeat, adding that the setback might be a positive in the long run.
“We know that we’ve got a lot of things to work on,” he said. “We all got kind of flustered by the way this game played out and we need to learn from that.”
Ratings update: Despite the loss, Bellevue West remains No. 1.
The 17-1 Thunderbirds have beaten No. 2 Bellevue East and No. 3 Millard West. The Chieftains (12-2) have defeated the Wildcats, while Millard West (16-3) also has lost to Omaha Benson.
That keeps Bellevue West on top of the heap for now. But if the Thunderbirds stumble again — and that home game Feb. 12 against Bellevue East is looming larger all the time — then that will change.
The Chieftains also lost Saturday against South Dakota power Sioux Falls Washington. That squad has lost once this season, so Bellevue East isn’t punished for that.
Defending Class A champion Omaha Central climbs to No. 4 after defeating Millard North. The Mustangs stay ahead of the two Lincoln schools — Southwest and Southeast — they defeated earlier this month.
Class B No. 1 Beatrice jumps to No. 8 in the Top 10, followed by Seward and Gretna. The Bluejays captured the Central Conference tournament while the Dragons won the Eastern Midlands Conference tourney crown.
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