When the Cazenovia boys basketball team left the Fabius-Pompey Tournament Dec. 28 after a second-place finish in that event, it was 5-4, and far from the confident and hard-charging unit it had been the year before.
So head coach Todd Widrick decided to emphasize the basics again, hoping that simple approach would get the Lakers moving again.
It sure seems to be working, as Cazenovia has gone 5-0 in the new year, including impressive OHSL Liberty division wins over Marcellus and Westhill that seems to indicate that the Lakers still harbor championship dreams.
Not even a week after handing 11-0 Marcellus its first defeat, the Lakers further improved its profile last Tuesday night, taking over down the stretch to beat Westhill 49-42 at Buckley Gym.
Every game against Westhill is super-charged, partially because Widrick spent the first part of his coaching career there, taking the Warriors to a state Class B championship in 1997.
This proved to be no different, as Westhill, coming into the game with a 10-2 record and a five-game win streak of its own, engaged Cazenovia in just the kind of grinding contest that it wanted.
With it man-to-man defense, Westhill held the Lakers to just two 3-point attempts in the first half. Meanwhile, the Warriors hit four treys, three of them by Mike Stirpe, and led by as much as eight before taking a 28-22 advantage to the break.
Gradually, the Lakers crept closer in the third quarter, helped in no small part by Westhill's massive struggles at the foul line. Of the first 22 free throws it attempted, the Warriors made just nine of them, preventing a bigger margin for Cazenovia to overcome.
By the fourth quarter, Cazenovia's defense was in full shutdown mode. In contrast to the matchup zone it used to rattle Marcellus, it played straight man-to-man here, smothering the Warriors at every turn. Over the course of the final period, Westhill had just one field goal.