Feb 06, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
If the West Genesee boys basketball team wanted to enter the short list of Section III Class AA championship contenders, it needed to take full advantage of the opportunity offered to them last weekend.
In less than 24 hours, the Wildcats would play two Class AA state-ranked opponents — first Fayetteville-Manlius, then Utica Proctor. When it all was done, WG had a split, but had to feel good about the way it stood up to the challenge.
This gauntlet began last Friday night, in Camillus, when the Wildcats lured F-M (no. 25 state ranking) out of the notorious comfort zone of its home court and, propelled by the hot hand of senior Chris Cruz, beat the Hornets 61-56.
When F-M arrived, it did so as one of the area’s hottest teams, having stunned both Utica Proctor and Henninger in back-to-back games when both foes occupied spots in the state top 10.
But those games were at F-M. This was on the road, in front of the loud, boisterous “Wildcat Nation”, as WG attempted to keep the Hornets from clinching the OHSL Colonial American division title.
Most of the first half was tightly bunched, but the Wildcats took the lead for good late in the second quarter and, when Casey Reale drained a 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, WG had a 33-27 lead.
Little had changed late in the third period when Cruz put things away. Already, he had 18 points on the night, staying aggressive and getting open even though F-M’s defense knew it had to stop him.
Now, with the game still in doubt, Cruz hit two huge 3-pointers, turning a modest margin into a 47-37 lead at the end of the third period. F-M never got too close again.
“We just mastered all our plays, and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” said Cruz.
For the night, Cruz would finish with 26 points, negating a balanced F-M attack where four players hit double figures, but no one had more than Ethan Gilbert’s 12 points.
Inside, the Wildcats, as a whole, never let F-M star Patrick Lee get comfortable, holding him to 11 points and just three field goals — this after Lee had torched Fowler for 29 points three nights earlier.
“Defensively, we did a great job,” said head coach Steve Dunham. “We made F-M work for everything.”
Aside from Cruz, Brian O’Leary stepped up for 10 points, while Reale and Jack Conboy produced nine points apiece.
The only downside to all this was that, on Saturday afternoon, the Wildcats would have to try and replicate that effort at Utica Proctor, in a game postponed from Dec. 22 due to the concerns over threats against Proctor guard Mario Whitehurst.
No team had won at Proctor since 2003 — and WG was unable to break that four-year home win streak, falling to the Raiders 71-62.
With Cruz still hot, the Wildcats hung with Proctor throughout the first half and trailed by just two, 31-29, at the break.
Abandoning its original plan, the Raiders swarmed over Cruz, and he managed just two points in the pivotal third quarter as Proctor outscored WG 25-11, building a margin the visitors could not overcome.
Cruz still finished with 26 points for the second day in a row, including four 3-pointers. Kevin Wadach hit a trio of treys on his way to 13, with Conboy adding eight points. Proctor’s star junior forward, Deandre Preaster, led his side with 24 points as Wesley Jackson added 20 points.
This moved WG’s record to 11-7. It hosts Bishop Ludden Tuesday on Senior Night and goes to Nottingham Friday before finding out, on Sunday, where it will start the Section III Class AA playoffs.