Janesville Craig’s girls basketball players know they will need to get off to stronger starts if they want their postseason to continue.
For now, the Cougars are back in a WIAA Division 1 regional final game.
Top-seeded Craig overcame a sluggish first five minutes against fourth-seeded Milton on Thursday night, eventually cruising to a 66-38 victory in a regional semifinal on Bob Suter Court.
Craig will host second-seeded Sun Prairie in a regional final at 7 p.m. Saturday night.
“I think our last few games we’ve been kind of flat to start off, but once we get going I feel like we don’t stop,” said Craig junior guard Kate Huml, who led the way with 23 points. “But in every other game we’re going to be playing now, it’s going to be close.
“We’ve got to come out ready to play.”
Milton, which lost twice to Craig during the regular season by 29 and 26 points, led 6-2 and 9-4 in the opening minutes Tuesday.
With 13:10 left in the half, sophomore Ellie Magestro-Kennedy buried a 3-pointer to put Craig up for good at 16-13. It sparked an 11-0 run over the next three-plus minutes that included two more buckets by Magestro-Kennedy, as well as her assist on a kick-out to Huml for a 3.
“We started in man (defense) again, and I don’t know if that was a good idea, but we went to the 2-3 (zone) and just got some stops,” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken said. “Then we just started to hit some shots and it just snowballed.”
By halftime, it was 39-19 Cougars behind 14 points from Huml. Magestro-Kennedy also had 10 of her 14 in the first half.
“I think we were still getting good looks, but they just weren’t falling,” Milton head coach Stacy Skemp said. “We were getting them in the lane and the shots were rimming out.
“Defensively, we knew Craig would hit some good shots even if we were in front of them, because they’ve got good basketball players. But when you have a long offensive drought against a good team, they’ll make you pay.”
Lily Campbell added 10 points for the Cougars. Julia Jaecks led the Red Hawks with 11.
Now the Cougars move on to face a familiar foe in Sun Prairie, but it will be just the first meeting between the Big Eight Conference rivals this winter after the league canceled its season due to COVID-19.
The Cardinals are just 3-4 after they were not allowed to start their season until Jan. 23. They beat third-seeded Monona Grove, 41-34, in their tournament opener Thursday.
Craig and Sun Prairie also met in a regional final a year ago, with the Cougars winning, 40-37.
They know they will likely need a stronger start if they hope to get back to sectional play once again.
“We just haven’t had good starts—I think we gave up points on the first three possessions tonight,” Storbakken said. “I thought we got a little careless with the ball tonight and gave up too many offensive rebounds, too. We told the girls that moving forward these games are going to get tougher, so we’ll need to correct those two things.”
CRAIG 66, MILTON 38
Milton 19 19—38
Janesville Craig 39 27—66
MILTON (fg ft-fta pts)—Jalczynsky 1 0-0 2, Jaecks 4 2-4 11, Shaw 2 0-2 4, Quade 4 1-4 9, Radke 2 1-2 5, Kanable 0 1-4 1, Ferguson 1 0-2 2, LaCoursier 1 1-2 4. Totals: 15 6-20 38.
CRAIG—Campbell 2 6-8 10, Pierson 2 0-1 4, Huml 8 4-4 23, Magestro-Kennedy 4 4-4 14, Clarke 1 0-0 2, McBride 0 1-2 1, Nicholson 1 4-4 7, Alderman 0 1-2 1, Fieiras 2 0-2 4. Totals: 20 20-27 66.
3-point goals—Milton 2 (Jaecks, LaCoursier), Craig 6 (Huml 3, Magestro-Kennedy 2, Nicholson). Total fouls—Milton 17, Craig 20.