The Janesville Craig girls basketball team will look back on the first half of the conference season and think: shoulda, woulda, coulda.
Of the six teams above the Cougars in the Big Eight Conference standings at the league’s midway point, they’ve had four of them in their crosshairs.
On Tuesday, it was No. 9-ranked Madison Memorial that trailed Craig for roughly 95 percent of regulation.
But junior guard Emmoni Rankins rolled home a jumper at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. The Cougars then went without a field goal in the extra four minutes as the Spartans rallied for a 63-56 victory on Bob Suter Court.
“These are tough to swallow,” Craig coach Kerry Storbakken said. “We’ve had the top teams on the ropes, and we’ve had them at home, and we just haven’t been able to finish.”
The Cougars (6-6, 3-6 Big Eight) trailed the Spartans (11-2, 8-1) just once in regulation, when it was 2-1 in the opening minutes.
Craig’s 2-3 zone defense bothered Memorial, as it shot just 24.3 percent—including 1 of 13 from beyond the arc—in the first half. The Cougars, behind 13 of sophomore Claudia Fieiras’ team-high 16 points—led 29-21 at the break.
“I thought our defense was there for the most part,” Storbakken said. “It’s just frustrating, because we’ve shown we can play with these teams and aren’t getting anything to show for it.”
The Spartans chipped away at the deficit early in the second half and were within a possession or two pretty much the whole way down the stretch.
Memorial tied the game on a free throw with 2:40 left in regulation, but Craig senior Emily Pierson—who scored all 14 of her points in the second half—made 3 of 4 free throws in the following two possessions to put Craig back up by three, 48-45.
The Cougars kept that lead until the final seconds. Leading 53-51 with time ticking down, Memorial found Rankins in the high post. Her jumper drew iron and fell in with under a second left to send the game to overtime. Rankins had a game-high 20 points.
“We were gassed, especially without Hannah,” said Storbakken, whose team played without junior starter Hannah Dunlavy due to injury. “And then they made that buzzer beater to tie it, that hurt even more.”
Memorial junior Brooke Peters, the only Spartan to make a 3-pointer all game, hit her fourth triple a little over a minute into overtime to give Memorial the lead for good.
Craig hung within two or three points until both Fieiras and junior Rileigh Elgas (10 points, 22 rebounds) fouled out. But the Cougars never made an overtime basket, and the Spartans sealed the game at the line. They were just 9 of 25 from the stripe but made each of their final four freebies.
In the first trip through conference play, Craig lost to Verona and Sun Prairie back-to-back at home by a combined seven points. The Cougars led late in both of those games and were up at halftime at Middleton last week before losing by six. And now they’ve added an overtime loss to the close calls.
Craig hosts Beloit Memorial to start the second half of league play Friday night.
MEMORIAL 63, CRAIG 56 (OT)
Memorial (63)—Peters 4-1-13, Brown 4-2-10, Rankins 9-2-20, Sweet 3-1-7, Garcia 5-3-13. Totals: 25-9-63.
Craig (56)—Gregg 2-2-7, Huml 1-2-4, Pierson 3-8-14, Parkhurst 1-3-5, Elgas 4-2-10, Fieiras 5-4-16. Totals: 16-21-56.
Madison Memorial 21 32 10—63
Janesville Craig 29 24 3—56
3-point goals—Memorial 4 (Peters 4), Craig 3 (Fieiras 2, Gregg). Free throws missed—Memorial 16, Craig 12. Total fouls—Memorial 24, Craig 21. Fouled out—Peters, Elgas, Fieiras.