Host Nicolet overcame early foul trouble to leading scorer Briana Gray and surged late to seize a 46-40 victory over West Bend East in a WIAA Division 2 regional game Friday night.
With the senior Gray on the bench after drawing her third foul with 6:15 remaining in the second quarter, the visiting Suns (9-14) capped a 6-0 run to grab an early 19-12 lead.
Senior Sara Travia would answer with consecutive 3-point baskets to trim the lead to one, but the game would remain a tight, back-and-forth affair throughout. Behind a balanced offensive performance, East led 23-22 at the half.
“Briana is a huge part of our offense,” said Nicolet head coach Rick DeKeyser. “We have seven seniors so I just told them this is it. Someone is going to have to step up.”
Senior Lanoira Duhart picked up the offensive slack following halftime for the Knights (13-10), scoring six straight to ignite an 8-2 third quarter run that put Nicolet up 30-25. Duhart finished with a game-high 17 points, including 13 in the second half.
But East would not allow Nicolet to pull away, using a late 5-0 spurt to draw even at 33 entering the final quarter.
Following two free throws from freshman Katelyn Zettler that put East up 38-36, Duhart responded with a three-point play that gave the Knights the lead for good.
After hitting her first free throw, Duhart wrestled the rebound on her second attempt away from several Suns defenders before finishing at the rim to put Nicolet up one with 3:50 remaining.
Gray would return to help seal the game for the Knights, hitting an elbow jumper and two free throws to make it 43-38 Nicolet with 1:35 remaining. East was unable to make it a one-possession game from there. Gray finished with 10 points.
“It was a hard-fought game,” said West Bend East head coach Don Gruber. “I think we started to press a little bit and we missed some easy opportunities.”
Zettler led the Suns with 11 points, while junior Hailey Krewald added 10.
Nicolet advances to play at top-seeded Beaver Dam (20-3) Saturday night, and will look to avenge their 41-35 loss in November. The Golden Beavers are currently the fourth-ranked team in Division 2.
“We played them close and had the lead at half earlier this season, but they have improved so much since then,” said DeKeyser. “We’re just going to come back tomorrow and do our best.“
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