Collins takes leash off his Spartans

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Dave Wedeward
Friday, March 20, 2009

Big Eight boys basketball fans didn’t get the WIAA state semifinal matchup they wanted, but they’re still banking on having a state championship.

That’s nothing new, though, is it?

It’s again old Madison Memorial left carrying the Big Eight hopes for a gold ball, but these are the “new” Spartans. And with their familiar faces seen in a new light here Thursday night, they left a lasting impression as they charged into tonight’s semifinals.

Beloit failed to keep its end of the Big Eight bargain, faltering badly in its attempt to match up with offensive-minded Bay Port, but the real Memorial—the Spartans, who have been to the state tournament six straight times—showed the Kohl Center crowd something it may not have seen before. That would be a Memorial team on a short leash and clearly on the run to big numbers and maybe even greater things.

Certainly, no one could fault the great things the top-ranked Spartans have done throughout this 24-1 season, or in any of their five previous Big Eight championship seasons, for that matter. But this is a different time and approach to the gold ball that eluded the Spartans the last three years.

Steve Collins admitted back at sectional time to backing off on over-coaching his Spartans and just letting them play. The shift that brought decisive results last week showed again in the state tournament. And with the coach’s sound approval, we might add.

“Sometimes, the coach doesn’t have all the answers,” Collins said after an impressive 86-73 quarterfinal victory over talented and determined Germantown. “The guys are the ones out there playing, and they know what works.”

No matter what Memorial does, however, it seems to work. Plenty of Big Eight victims can attest to that. So can Germantown.

Germantown coach Steve Showalter said he listened to a lot of opinions on how to play the Spartans. The best decision, he concluded, was to go with what got the Warhawks here—up-tempo pace and sound shooting.

The Warhawks did an admirable job with that, too, finishing with nine three-point goals and bouncing back from a big deficit to get within six points with just over three minutes left in the game.

But this Memorial team seems to have an answer for everything. And that was true again this time.

In reality, the Spartans seem to operate at different level than everybody else. Germantown found that out in playing a strong first half, but suddenly winding up on the short end of a 12-point spread when a typical Memorial blitz turned a 27-25 game into a 37-25 halftime score.

While a Kohl Center advertisement kept flashing “Part Time Blue … Always You,” fans and participants soon found out this was going to be mostly an all-time “Blue” night.

The only part-time things were the occasional spurts by blue-clad Germantown. The rest was all University of Wisconsin recruit Vander Blue (as in “Always You,” we assume), a 6-foot-4 junior guard, who put on a Jeronne Maymon-type state tournament performance in scoring a staggering 35 points.

But that’s the sticking point with these Spartans. They don’t need a huge scoring production from Marquette-bound Maymon, a 6-7 senior and the reigning state Player of the Year, to win big.

The awesome underclass lineup of Blue, 6-4 junior Tre Creamer and 6-4 freshman Junior Lomomba is more than capable of providing plenty of punch in any given game. And when you throw in seven assists from Maymon, which he had against Germantown, you have a seemingly unbeatable combination.

Beloit could only have hoped to have that combination in its futile attempt to keep pace with unbeaten Bay Port. And the Purple Knights’ hopes took an eventually fatal blow when they were outscored 15-2 after their 71-62 game was tied at 11-11.

Bottom line, Beloit was beaten by a better team, proving the Fox River Classic champion is better than the Big Eight’s third-place team.

Tonight, Bay Port’s task is for its 24-0 team to beat the Big Eight champion.

Bay Port coach Nate Rykal insisted on having his up-tempo Pirates push the pedal to the floor to overpower the Purple Knights. And they were successful.

Now, he says he’ll insist on the same against the Spartans. Big Eight fans, among others, should find it interesting—even if it isn’t the semifinal matchup they hoped to have.

Dave Wedeward is The Janesville Gazette sports editor.

Last updated: 9:50 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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