The way Verona senior guard Haakon Anderson looked at it, the 14th-seeded Wildcats had nothing to lose going into a Division 1 regional semifinal on the road against third-seeded Madison Memorial.
Anderson scored a game-high 16 points, but the Wildcats couldn’t keep momentum after a hot start in a 69-49 loss to the Spartans on Friday, March 6.
“We came out with a different mentality,” Anderson said. “We realized as a 14 seed, we didn’t necessarily have a bunch of pressure on us. The pressure was on them.”
After trailing by 17 points early in the second half, Verona (4-19) stormed back with an 18-10 run. Junior guard Kolson Roddick buried a 3 and made a layup, classmate Bennett Sherry drilled two 3s during the surge, and fellow junior Jake Poller split a pair of free throws to slice the Spartans’ lead to 43-34 with 11:30 remaining.
Anderson said the key was staying patient on offense.
“We thought we could break their defense down and get any shot we wanted,” he said. “We got within single digits and that put a little more pressure on them.”
Memorial closed the game with a 26-15 run, highlighted by senior Kwan Lewis’ thunderous dunk. Senior Justin Jackson hit a jumper to give the Spartans their largest lead (60-38) with five minutes to go.
Memorial outrebounded Verona 27-14. Senior Yacouba Traore Jr. scored a team-high 14 points and classmate Kyle Yu added 10 for the Spartans.
Verona coach Alan Buss said his team cut its deficit to single digits by holding the Spartans to one shot and scoring in transition.
“It really comes down to fundamentals; boxing out, getting a body on someone and being physical,” Buss said. “We have to get in the weight room and get stronger. To be a good rebounding team, you have to have everyone committed to boxing out.
“We wanted to defend like hell, take care of the ball and give ourselves a chance. For the most part, we executed the game plan.”
Anderson twice scored down low and Poller knocked down a 3 to give the Wildcats a 7-1 lead with 13:14 left in the first half.
Memorial responded with a 23-6 run and led 30-16 lead at halftime. Verona committed 11 of its 14 turnovers in the first half. Roddick hit three 3 pointers and scored 11 points for the Wildcats.
It was the final game for seven Verona seniors — Anderson, Adam Bekx, Malik Odetunde, Sebastian Golden, Drew Gonzales, Trevin Lieck and Drew Scadden.
“I will definitely remember the perseverance of the team,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of challenges and faced a lot of adversity throughout the season. Every guy came in day in and day out in practices to get better. It’s tough to see it end. I will remember the relationships and not the score of each game.”
Buss served as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season after Eddie Singleton stepped down Jan. 29, because of a personal matter, Verona athletic director Joel Zimba said.
Buss said he will sit down and do “due diligence” in deciding if he wants to become the permanent head coach for next season.
“Where I fall into that, I don’t know at this point,” he said. “I just want the program to be in good hands. I will do whatever I need to do to make that happen.”
Five Wildcats named all-conference
Anderson received honorable mention notice as the only Verona boys basketball player on the Big Eight All-Conference Team.
Verona’s girls basketball team had four players honored, headlined by first-team senior Rayna Briggs. Freshman Megan Murphy was named second-team all-conference. Senior Rachel Parman and freshman Paige Lambe were honorable mention selections.