Steps forward, steps back for Panthers
In last Thursday's 67-44 win over Spring Valley, the St. Croix Central boys basketball team gave every indication it was ready to move up to the level of the top teams in the Dunn-St. Croix Conference.
Then in Saturday's 39-35 loss to Glenwood City, the Panthers' uninspired play lessened the enthusiasm about the team.
These two games leave the Panthers with a 2-2 record as they conclude the December portion of their conference schedule. The Panthers have two non-conference games slated yet in December. Next Tuesday the Panthers will play at Baldwin-Woodville. The following Saturday the Panthers will be at home, facing Somerset.
The Panthers have plenty of things to work on in this 10-day gap between games. Coach Mike Fern was quite upset with the team's intensity in Saturday's loss to Glenwood City. The Toppers scored the first seven points of the game as the Panthers stumbled through the first minutes of the game.
After the dreary start the Panthers picked up steam, especially in the defensive end of the court. By the end of the opening quarter the Panthers had cut the deficit to 7-5.
Glenwood City has a talented lineup that averaged a 2-3 inch height advantage over each Central starter. That height advantage was a Glenwood City advantage throughout the game, with the Panthers seeming fearful to try to shoot over their taller defenders.
Central gradually gained some steam, led by the fiery play of junior guard Luke Brown. Brown was flying all over the court. His seven points in the second quarter helped the Panthers get even. Central took its first lead with 55 seconds left in the half when David Butler hit the second of his consecutive hoops. Those shots put Central ahead 20-18, before Tyler Kuehndorf scored with 25 seconds left to send the game into halftime tied 20-20.
Glenwood City played at a methodical pace and the Toppers slowed the pace even more in the third quarter. Neither team was able to make much headway and Central led 27-26 entering the fourth quarter.
Central pulled out to a 31-27 lead early in the fourth quarter and one or two more hoops could have put the game away. Instead, the Panthers' shooting went ice cold. They made one field goal in the final five minutes of the game, having several close-range shots roll out.
Fern said the Panthers struggled in several areas. Paramount in that trouble was turnovers, where the Panthers gave up the ball 16 times.
"In a game like that we should have had half as many (turnovers)," Fern said.
Spring Valley win
There was plenty of reason for enthusiasm after the Panthers dominated Spring Valley in last Thursday's game.
This was a performance any coach would love. The Panthers shot well, they rebounded well and their quickness on defense neutralized Spring Valley's dribble and drive offense.
"The kids offensively and defensively played a complete game," Fern said.
The Panther guards had a big night offensively. Brian Aldworth led the attack with 15 points, followed by Brown with 12 and Kyle Cress with eight. Cress dished off for seven assists in the win.
The Panther post players controlled the action under the hoops, leading to a substantial rebounding advantage for the team. Butler led the Panthers with nine rebounds in the game. He and Cody Olson each scored 10 points.