Craig basketball teams eye state berths

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John Barry
Sunday, February 23, 2014

It has been 11 years since Janesville Craig played at the boys state basketball tournament.

The Cougar girls have never been to state.

There’s an outside chance both could make an appearance this year.

The postseason tips off Tuesday night for boys, followed by the girls on Tuesday, March 3.

Led by Al Hughes, the Big Eight’s best point guard, the Craig High girls will enter tournament play as one of the hottest teams around in Division 1. With two regular-season games left, the Cougars have won six straight and are 16-4 overall.

Craig padded its postseason resume and secured the No. 1 seed in its regional with a 63-61 win over sixth-ranked Middleton.

The Cougars are deep, athletic and can shoot from the outside as well as any team in their sectional.

“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken said. “We’re playing our best basketball at the right time.”

Mukwonago, which was the Division 1 runner-up a year ago, looms in the lower bracket of the region and is the No. 2 seed. Lake Geneva Badger, which has a chance to win at least a share of the Southern Lakes Conference title this week, is the No. 3 seed. Janesville Parker has had an up-and-down season and is a No. 5 seed, but under longtime coach Tom Klawitter, the Vikings are always a threat come tournament time.

Middleton and Verona will likely play each other in a semifinal game in the upper half of the sectional bracket. Craig split with Middleton during the year and lost twice to Verona.

“We’ve played one really bad half of basketball all season, and that was the second time we played Verona,” Storbakken said. “The first time we lost to them up there it was a one-possession game.

“I think by beating Middleton, our girls gained a lot of confidence knowing they can play with the best teams. Plus the sectional title game would be on a neutral court.”

The Craig boys appear to have a tougher row to hoe in their bid to get back to state for the first time since 2003. The Cougars are the No. 3 seed in the bottom half of a Burlington Sectional that is wide open.

Mukwonago, which was the Division 1 runner-up a year ago, is the top seed in the region. The Indians finished the regular season with a 14-8 record, but were 4-4 in their last eight games and were third in the Classic Eight Conference.

Beloit Memorial got the No. 2 seed in the lower half based on a better overall record than Craig, but the two teams split the regular-season series. A third meeting between the schools will likely take place on Saturday in a regional final game.

Craig (13-9) enters tournament play with one of the top seniors in the area in Jerry Ngobi, who will play at UW-Whitewater next year, and one of the top shooters in the sectional in senior Mike Murphy. Coach Mike Miller has a solid starting five, backed up by a deep bench that has bailed the Cougars out on more than one occasion this season.

Madison Memorial, the Big Eight champion for 11 straight seasons, will be heavily favored to come out of the upper portion of the Burlington Sectional. The Spartans, who have been to state in nine of the past 10 years, should cruise to the semifinal game of the bracket before facing a talented but underachieving Sun Prairie team.

Craig lost twice to Memorial during the regular season but had fourth-quarter leads in both games.

There’s plenty of basketball yet to be played before the boys state tournament tips off at the Kohl Center in Madison on March 14, 15 and 16, and the girls hit the Resch Center in Green Bay for their state tournament on March 21, 22 and 23.

The Cougars hope to claw their way into both.

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