For some heavy underdogs, the game plan can be simple.
Particularly in a basketball game with no shot clock, their best bet is often to take the air out of the ball. To limit the number of possessions in the game. To stall.
That’s not a strategy Elkhorn was interested in Friday.
Undersized and overmatched against top-seeded Glendale Nicolet—with its starting five perhaps all bound to earn college basketball scholarships—the Elks came to the Kohl Center with visions of going about their normal business.
And that plan had the Elks ahead of the Knights deep into the first half of their WIAA Division 2 state semifinal at the Kohl Center before Nicolet pulled away to a 70-46 victory.
“We wanted to do what we do,” Elkhorn coach Josh Skatrud said. “And it worked, until it didn’t.”
Offensively, the Elks certainly weren’t looking for a quick shot, but they weren’t playing four corners, either. Per usual, they worked the ball through their motion offense until they found an open look. The result was 11 made baskets in thier first 16 shot attempts and a 24-19 lead.
Defensively, the Elks did what they could to pack the paint against a pair of 6-foot-9 Division I recruits. And they tried their best to limit any sort of transition offense.
Twice, the Knights appeared poised for a breakaway dunk, but Elkhorn fouled near half-court to make sure that was not an option.
The second time, though, came when the Elks’ had their aforementioned five-point lead, and it was called an intentional foul. Nicolet’s Kobe Johnson made both free throws, and Jalen Johnson followed with a dunk.
The Knights closed the half on a 6-0 run to lead by one and then opened the second half on an 8-0 run as they dialed up their full-court-pressure defense.
The turnovers piled up for Elkhorn, and admittedly it didn’t handle the pressure as well as it had hoped, especially in the final 21 minutes.
But the Elks also said all week they weren’t going to go into the Kohl Center scared. And no one who watched the game would accuse them of looking like they were.
“Most teams go in there and play them and they just get all tight with the ball,” Elks junior guard Devon Davey said. “We just said, we’re going to play our brand of basketball and go at them.”
Nowhere was that more evident than in the decision to match Davey with Jalen Johnson. Johnson is the nation’s No. 2-ranked junior in the nation according to ESPN and stands 6-foot-9. Davey is listed at just 6-foot, but he is never one to turn down an assignment to guard an opponent’s top offensive threat.
“I don’t think much rattles Devon if you watch the way he carries himself,” Skatrud said, shrugging off the idea that Davey had any sort of different reaction in preparing to guard Johnson during the week of practice.
Johnson, who has offers from virtually every top Division I school in the nation, including Duke, Kansas and Kentucky, finished 6-for-17 from the field with 16 points, 11 rebounds and four turnovers.
“You’re just trying to stay in front of him and rely on some help from your teammates and contest his shots,” Davey said. “You know he’s good, and you know you’re going to need help.
“But you definitely have to be a little fearless.”
In the end, the final scoring margin was probably exactly what most basketball followers around the state were expecting.
But you’ve got to imagine the Elks’ fearless game plan only added to the respect that they earned during their postseason run to get to Madison.