PRAIRIE DU SAC — The Beaver Dam prep girls basketball team came out of the gates Tuesday looking exactly like the squad the Badger North Conference has gotten used to.
The Golden Eagles are just looking for a way to sustain that for 36 minutes. After getting out to a 13-0 lead, but they quickly ran out of steam and found themselves in a battle with Sauk Prairie before pulling away late for a 63-44 road win in Prairie du Sac.
“We have our lulls a little bit,” Beaver Dam head coach Tim Chase said of the Golden Beavers’ streaky play. “We play good basketball at times, but then we have other times where we struggle on both ends of the floor.
“But we’re trying. I can’t say enough about the way our team has approached this season. They came in from day one and we’ve had some things adversity-wise that haven’t worked out the greatest, but they keep coming to practice and keep going.”
Beaver Dam (14-1), the No. 1 ranked team in Division 2 in this week’s Associated Press poll, looked like it was going to roll over Sauk Prairie (6-2) early. Natalie Jens, a Minnesota State University Moorhead commit who entered the day scoring 18.3 points per game, was in control early. The senior served as the head of Beaver Dam’s pressing defense while also hitting a 3-pointer, putting back an offensive rebound, and scoring on an up and under to give the Golden Beavers the 13-0 lead.
McKayla Paukner ended the run. The Sauk Prairie freshman turned a steal into a foul and two free throws that got the Eagles on the board 2 minutes, 49 seconds into the game.
But Jens came right back, finding Paige Yagodinski for one of her six 3-pointers before assisting Riley Czarnecki for a layup that stretched the lead to 18-2.
Sauk Prairie got it going from there, finding their defensive footing and doing a better job of taking care of the basketball against a Beaver Dam team that is still getting used to playing without Matty Wilke. The University of Wisconsin commit was averaging 21.8 points per game when she tore her ACL during a 72-33 home win over Madison Edgewood on Dec. 14. The Golden Beavers are 6-1 without the do-it-all senior, but they are winning by an average margin of 13.6 points per game after opening the season by winning their first eight games by 56.8 points per game.
“There’s a lot of adjustments,” Chase said. “Obviously we’ve changed a lot since Matty’s been out, but we’re just trying to figure things out. Just trying to put together good possessions one at a time and try different lineups where maybe we can get a little more scoring inside or defense on the perimeter — trying to find the right combinations.
“It’s not a lack of effort. We just need to be smarter at times and keep raising that basketball IQ; and some of that is experience.”
Sauk Prairie on the other hand entered Tuesday with five straight wins since suffering a 62-43 loss at Reedsburg on Dec. 10. The Eagles, who have come out on the other side of a COVID-19 hiatus, didn’t go down easy against the three-time reigning WIAA Division 2 state champions.
Sauk Prairie held Beaver Dam scoreless for a 6-plus-minute stretch to cut the deficit to 18-10 when Olivia Paukner scored four straight points, including two on an offensive rebound. Beaver Dam ended the 8-0 run, but Naomi Breunig got going for the Eagles. The senior Winona State commit assisted Kassia Marquardt and Maggie Hartwig for baskets before hitting Sauk Prairie’s only 3-pointer of the night to make it a 24-19 game with 4:17 to play.
The Eagles briefly pulled within one possession when Naomi Breunig assisted Olivia Breunig in the final minute, but Jens got to the rim as time expired to give Beaver Dam a 30-25 halftime lead.
“Sauk’s a very athletic team,” Chase said. “They’ve got good size and good guard play, so I think they’re doing a lot of things well. They’re playing very, very well right now, just watching them the last few weeks on film. They were a tough matchup for us with their size and the talent of their kids.”
The Golden Beavers steadily pulled away in the second half, starting when Yagodinski got with a trio of 3-pointers to give her a game-high 21 points. Jens finished with 17, Kylie Wittnebel added eight and Carlee Lapen had seven, including putting the game away with a 3-pointer that gave Beaver Dam a 55-38 lead with 5:27 to play.
Hartwig finished with 12 points for a Sauk Prairie team that also got nine from Naomi Breunig and Olivia Paukner, and six from Olivia Breunig.
The Golden Beavers, who have won two straight since losing their first game in nearly a year with a 72-68 defeat at New Berlin Eisenhower, will return to keep it going with Friday’s home game against Watertown. Sauk Prairie will look to start a new winning streak Thursday at Dodgeville.
BEAVER DAM 63, SAUK PRAIRIE 44
BEAVER DAM (fg ft-fta pts) — Jens 6 3-4 17; Salettel 1 0-2 3; Wittnebel 2 4-8 8; Hodgon 1 0-0 2; Kuenzi 0 2-2 2; Yagodinski 7 1-2 21; Lapen 2 2-2 7; Czarnecki 1 1-2 3. Totals 20 13-22 61.
SAUK PRAIRIE — N. Breunig 4 0-1 9; O. Breunig 2 2-2 6; Marquardt 1 0-0 2; Hartwig 5 2-2 12; Braund 1 0-1 2; M. Paukner 0 4-4 4; O. Paukner 3 3-7 9.
3-point goals: BD 10 (Yagodinzki 6, Jens 2, Lapen 1); SP 1 (N. Breunig). Total fouls: BD 16; SP 13.