Benson shakes off the flu to lead Cougars
That reason alone was enough to keep Janesville Craig’s floor leader on the court, despite being plagued with her second bout of stomach flu this season.
“I figured that this was my last conference game my senior year, and there wasn’t much that was going to stop me from playing in this one,” Benson said.
The way Benson played in the fourth quarter Thursday night proved it was going to take a lot more than the flu and Madison LaFollette to slow her down.
The Craig High guard scored eight of her game-high 18 points in the final eight minutes, helping Cougars turn back a feisty La Follette team, 52-43, in what was her team’s Big Eight season finale.
With its 10th win in 13 games, Craig wrapped up third place with a 10-6 conference record and finished the regular season at 13-7.
“Our kids just kept getting better,” said Craig coach Mark Marsden, who had to replace four key players heading into the season. “It took awhile for us to click, and now they really are playing well together.”
Throughout the season, Benson was the glue that made the team stick together, although her status for Thursday’s game was in question until the tip-off.
Averaging 14.5 points a game in conference, Benson was fresh off a 27-point performance against Sun Prairie on Monday when the first signs of the flu appeared. Not riding home on the bus and not doing any practicing in the two days of preparation, it was unclear whether Benson would recover in time.
“I really wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to play,” Marsden said. “She’s our leader, an all-conference player, and she really gutted it out.”
Dehydrated, dizzy and playing virtually the entire second half, Benson put her illness aside and carried the Cougars.
After seeing La Follette (8-11, 5-10) cut the lead to two at the start of the fourth quarter, Benson took charge. Taking advantage of the Lancers’ foul troubles (13 in the second half), she continuously drove into the lane, either making the layup or getting fouled and sent to the free-throw line.
The result was Benson making all four of her fourth-quarter free throws and adding two more driving layups to give her team eight much-needed points.
“Sometimes you have got to take charge and finish the game out,” Benson said. “Lots of things went right for them, and a lot of things didn’t go right for us. But you have to weather the storm and win these games like this, especially on the road.”
Knowing how important the game was, Benson kept waving off her coach when he inquired if she needed a rest to gain her composure.
“That’s just my personality,” Benson said with a laugh. “You’re not going to find me asking to come out a lot. I don’t like being on the bench. I like being in the game.”
While Benson was solid on offense, senior Alexis Hilden chipped in on defense. Giving up four inches to La Follette’s Kendra Shillinglaw, the Lancers’ career leader in rebounding, Hilden held the senior center to no field goals when assigned to her.
Hilden, who was forced to wear a protective mask after re-injuring her nose on Monday, finished with nine points, five steals and four rebounds.
“She had a real good game,” Marsden said. “I think the mask affected her later in the game, but she had a great game on the offensive end and the rebounding game.”
After playing two road games in a four-day span, the Cougars will now await their seeding for the tournament, hoping their four-game winning streak will earn them a couple of home games.
“We had been playing so well, and it’s hard to keep that intensity up all the time,” Marsden said. “But to have a poor night and still come out and win by nine, I’m always pleased on the road in the Big Eight. We wanted to go into the tournament hot, and we’re going in hot.”
CRAIG 52, LA FOLLETTE 43
Craig (52)—Benson, 5-8-18; Sanchez, 1-0-2; Storbakken, 4-2-12; Straw, 3-1-9; Morgan, 0-2-2; Hilden, 4-1-9. Totals: 17-14-26-52.
La Follette (43)—T. Temple, 1-0-2; S. Temple, 1-2-4; Arenson, 1-0-2; Brown, 2-1-5; Taylor, 4-3-11; Shillinglaw, 2-3-7; Smith, 1-0-2; Graff, 4-2-10. Totals: 15-11-16-43.
Janesville Craig 16 12 10 14—52
Madison La Follette 9 13 14 7—43
Three-point goals—Craig 4 (Storbakken 2, Straw 2). Free throws missed—Craig 12, La Follette 5. Total fouls—Craig 17. La Follette 20. Fouled out—Brown, Taylor.
Sophomores—Craig 63, La Follette 31. Craig scoring leaders: Brooke Freiss, 13; Kelsey Kennedy, 11. Craig record: 18-2