Filling in as an interim head coach in the middle of the season was not the way Alan Buss envisioned returning to the bench.
In his first game back as Verona head coach after replacing Eddie Singleton, who stepped away for personal reasons, Buss got inspired play from the Wildcats in a 60-52 home loss to Middleton on Thursday, Jan. 30.
“It felt a little strange at first because I wasn’t anticipating that happening,” Buss said. “It’s about the kids. Most of these kids know me from growing up and going to my camp. It was nice to have (assistant coach) Cori (Corinthian Edmond) there to provide some continuity.”
Buss, who coached the Wildcats from 2001-17 and compiled a 213-162 record, is the principal at Badger Ridge Middle School.
He’s not sure about any permanent coaching commitment beyond this season.
“I’m taking it a day at a time,” he said.
Verona went on the road and knocked off Janesville Craig 63-49 on Saturday, Feb. 1, to snap a 10-game losing streak.
Verona 63, Janesville Craig 49
The Wildcats (3-13, 3-9 Big Eight Conference) dominated the glass with a 2-to-1 rebounding edge en route to a Big Eight win over the Cougars.
Verona led by three points at the half and outscored the Cougars 34-23 in the second half.
The Wildcats scored the first six points of the second half to push the lead to nine. Craig cut it to 46-40 with 5:49 left, but Verona answered with a 5-0 spurt to push its lead to double digits with 3:36 to go.
Senior Haakon Anderson scored a team-high 13 points for the Wildcats. Juniors Jacob Kisting, Bennett Sherry and James Rae added 10, nine and eight points, respectively.
Scoville scored a game-high 21 points.
Middleton 60, Verona 52
The Wildcats rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit, but came up short in Buss’ return to the bench as head coach.
Verona took a 49-48 lead with 3:44 left when Anderson drove down the lane and kicked the ball out to classmate Adam Bekx, who drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer.
Middleton closed the game with a 10-2 run. Sophomore T.J. Bauer knocked down a corner 3 in front of his team’s bench with 2:08 to go to give the Cardinals the lead, then made a fastbreak layup to make it 54-49.
Verona junior Kolson Roddick hit a 3 to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 56-52 with 16 seconds remaining. Middleton senior Cole Deptula, who scored a game-high 19 points, knocked down two free throws with 13 seconds left to seal the win.
Middleton 6-foot-6 senior forward Logan Schultz scored the first five points and the Cardinals raced out to a 10-0 lead. Senior Henry Patterson scored on a putback with 5:25 left in the first half to help the Cardinals to a 28-12 lead.
Verona closed the half on a 16-4 run. Sophomore Cole Jannusch scored on a putback, senior forward Malik Odetunde hit back-to-back 3s, and Anderson banked in a midrange jumper to cut the Wildcats’ deficit to four at intermission.
Odetunde scored all eight of his points in the first half.
“We got more intense and started to pack it in more,” Sherry said. “A lot of people were getting on the floor and hustling.”
Buss said the two areas the team discussed were not giving up points in the lane and defensive rebounding.
“We have to do a little bit better job of closing out on shooters,” he said. “The last five minutes of the first half, our defense was really solid, and that is what got us back in the game.”
The Cardinals corralled five of their eight offensive rebounds in the second half.
“We were trying to box them out and keep them out of the paint,” Sherry said. “They are so long, it’s tough to do, but we are a pretty big team. I think we should be winning every rebounding battle.”
Sherry scored seven of his nine points in the second half and had two steals in the game.
“I was kind of off with my outside game, so I tried to get my teammates involved and go inside more,” he said.
Anderson also scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds. The Wildcats used Anderson in the post down the stretch to create open scoring opportunities.
“We talked to our guys on offense about getting into the post as much as we can,” Buss said. “We talked about getting a 3 in transition or an inside-out 3. Those are good shots. These guys normally make them when they are set and get good looks.”