Elkhorn shares the basketball as well as any boys basketball team in the state.
Head coach Josh Skatrud said this week that the Elks average a whopping 22 assists per game.
With a trip to the WIAA state tournament on the line Saturday, however, the Elks called for a play named “Houston” and simply let their senior point guard go to work.
Luke Umnus’ driving, left-handed scoop shot with 1 second left on the clock sent the Elks to the Kohl Center in the most ironic of ways, prevailing 60-58 over top-seeded Mount Horeb in a Division 2 sectional final at Janesville Craig.
“We met at the end of (last) season, and we’ve kind of progressively been building our goals up. And I told them, ‘Next year we’re going to Madison,’” Skatrud said. “And that’s what we’re doing. These guys accepted that challenge.”
Elkhorn improved to 23-3 this season and will play in a D2 state semifinal Friday afternoon in Madison. The four state-bound teams will be seeded today, and the first semifinal is scheduled for 1:35 p.m. Friday.
The decisive play Saturday was one that Umnus and the Elks had already used once this season, when the guard hit a shot with four seconds left to beat Racine St. Catherine’s, 51-49, in early January.
The second installment came with much more on the line. Elkhorn was going for its first state-tournament berth since 1987.
Forward Nick Brown set a high ball screen for Umnus to help create some space, and then it was all up to the point guard to finish.
“We’re not calling a timeout, we’re not letting them set up their D,” Umnus said. “A high ball screen, they had their big guy box out on me. I just steadied my legs (and went).
“Then I just had to adjust in the air and finish the layup. I’ve practiced that move a million times.”
Mount Horeb called a timeout with one second left to try and draw up a miracle. But the Vikings’ attempt at a baseball pass hit the rafters in the ceiling, and the Elks took possession on the turnover and ran out the clock.
Umnus’ game-winner was the Elks’ second buzzer-beating shot of sectionals. Senior Chance Larson, who scored a team-high 17 points against Mount Horeb, made a last-second layup to beat Westosha Central by one in the sectional semifinals on Thursday.
“They’re just tough kids,” Skatrud said. “Gosh, just really tough.”
Umnus’ heroic shot put a stamp on what was a classic sectional final throughout. The teams traded the lead 13 times and were tied eight others. Neither team ever led by more than six points.
That lead belonged to Mount Horeb, 41-35, just over two minutes out of halftime. And if it was Luke Umnus’ shot that sent the Elks to state, it was a play by his twin brother, Vince, that made sure the Elks stayed within striking distance to get to that point.
The Vikings snared a rebound and were looking to push their lead to three possessions, but Vince Umnus poked the ball away in the back court. Larson made a leaning bucket off the turnover, sparking a 7-0 run that gave Elkhorn the lead less than two minutes after the momentum felt like it was teetering the opposite direction.
“That’s the story of our team: When we need to make a play, we make a play,” said Vince Umnus, who scored 16 points, including making three of the team’s nine 3-pointers. “We knew we could get into their guards. … They were loose with the ball. I saw an opportunity to make a play. I’ve got three fouls, but I’m going for it.
“It was all or nothing at that point.”
Mount Horeb regained the lead a few possessions later and kept it until the final four minutes.
There, Elkhorn trailed 55-52 but got a driving bucket from Larson to get within one. Then Vince Umnus drew an offensive foul at one end and followed with a pair of free throws at the other to give the Elks the lead for good.
After each team missed the front end of a bonus trip to the free-throw line, Larson got open for an easy layup to go up 58-55.
But the Vikings’ Gunnar Nortman, who scored 21 points, drove in for a basket. He was fouled and finished the three-point play to make it 58-58 with 14.6 seconds left.
It all set up Luke Umnus’ final layup.
Just how ironic was that play call?
The unselfish Elks call it “Houston” because the NBA’s Houston Rockets use high ball screens to open up space for James Harden—the league’s leading scorer and isolation player.
“When you’ve got a kid like Luke,” Skatrud said, “sometimes it’s best not to overcomplicate things.
“Just let him make a play.”
ELKHORN 60, MOUNT HOREB 58
Elkhorn (60)—Lauderdale 2-0-6, Larson 7-2-17, L. Umnus 2-0-5, Davey 3-0-8, V. Umnus 5-3-16, Brown 4-0-8. Totals: 23-5-60.
Mount Horeb (58)—Zenz 7-4-23, Post 1-0-2, Farnsworth 1-1-3, Nortman 9-2-21, Larson 3-1-7, Ziegler 1-0-2. Totals: 22-8-58.
Elkhorn 34 26—60
Mount Horeb 35 23—58
3-point goals—Elkhorn 9 (V. Umnus 3, Lauderdale 2, Davey 2, Larson, L. Umnus), Mount Horeb 6 (Zenz 5, Nortman). Free throws missed—Elkhorn 3, Mount Horeb 4. Total fouls—Elkhorn 15, Mount Horeb 12.