Millard West is making its first appearance in a decade at the Class A boys state basketball tournament, but the Wildcats aren’t short on game experience.
The Wildcat atop that list is four-year starter Connor Lusso.
Lusso heads to state averaging 18.4 points and 8.8 rebounds as Millard West (18-7) opens tournament play against Omaha Benson (18-5) at 10:45 a.m. Thursday.
Bill Morrison, who has coached Lusso all four seasons, has seen the 6-foot-6 senior’s play mature over the years.
“He has slowed down his game quite a bit,” Morrison said. “When he was doubled before, he’d rush. That really hasn’t been a problem this year. He’s slowed down his game and he still plays fast. He doesn’t turn the ball over as much, he doesn’t take as many bad shots. And the other thing is he’s really emerged as a leader.”
Lusso will leave Millard West as the statistical leader, too.
He broke the school’s career scoring record on Feb. 16 against Creighton Prep and goes into state with 1,370 points. He also has 725 career rebounds, setting the school record during the first weekend of the season.
Lusso decided before this season that he’ll play collegiately at Truman State (Mo.), a Division II program that went 10-17 this season.
“I think he has the chance to be a better college player than he was in high school because he probably won’t be doubled as much,” Morrison said.
Lusso has put up numbers despite being the focus of every opponent’s defense. The Wildcats also have gotten good production from fellow seniors Spencer Sharp, who is averaging 13.2 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, and Josh Lallman, who averages 9.4 points. Lallman is getting looked at by UNK, while Sharp has gotten attention from a number of area NAIA schools.
“We have three really good players,” Morrison said, “and the rest of the guys have kind of accepted their roles and are really playing well.”
The Wildcats have won nine of their past 11 games, including a 54-50 win over then-No. 1 Omaha South on Feb. 9. Lusso scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in that win.
Earlier, though, Millard West had a stretch when it dropped four of six games around the holidays, which included two losses to No. 1 Omaha Central.
“I don’t think we were playing bad. We just played some tough teams early in the year,” Morrison said. “For the most part, we are playing well (now), but it’s not that much better than early in the year.”
Also during that six-game span, the Wildcats split games with Benson, their first-round state opponent. Millard West defeated the Bunnies 62-52 in the Metro tournament on Dec. 31 before Benson won 71-64 five days later.
“We were able to run and score in transition in the first half of that first game, and they hit shots in that second game,” Morrison said. “They were similar games, just the roles switched.”
That means Thursday’s third matchup should be tightly contested.
“They know what we can do and we know what they can do,” Morrison said. “It’s a matter of who can execute. We need to limit their shots, and we need to rebound a little better.”
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