After losing four of its first five games, the Wisconsin Dells girls basketball team has now won five in a row. The latest of those victories came on Friday night, when it used a strong defensive effort in the second half to pull away for a 47-36 victory over Wisconsin Heights in a non-conference game at Wisconsin Dells High School.
Wisconsin Dells (6-4) trailed the Vanguards 24-23 at halftime, but scored the first seven coming out of the break, and held Wisconsin Heights (4-5) to just four points in the first 13 ½ minutes of the second half, allowing it to take control.
The second half started with a layup from sophomore Brooke Smith and a bucket from the left block by junior Audra Johnson, giving the Chiefs a 27-24 lead. Wisconsin Dells junior Kayla Gray, who finished with a game-high 17 points, then drilled a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 30-24 with 12:30 left in the game.
Wisconsin Heights briefly stopped the run when senior Ashlee Adler made one of two free throws, but the Chiefs continued to add to their lead when freshman Abbie Thundercloud scored from the left block and Gray drained another corner 3-pointer to give Wisconsin Dells its first double-digit lead at 35-25 with 11:00 remaining.
The Vanguards finally made their first field goal of the second half when sophomore Daryn Schaefer made a 3-pointer to make it 35-28. That would be the only field goal in the first 13 ½ minutes of the second half for the Vanguards. Wisconsin Dells took advantage of the prolonged dry spell, getting a bucket from sophomore Hailey Anchor and a 3-pointer from freshman Karson Meister, taking a 41-28 lead with 4:48 left.
Wisconsin Heights finally started to crack the Wisconsin Dells defense, getting a pair of quick buckets to cut the Wisconsin Dells lead to 41-32 with 3:30 remaining, but it was much too late to mount a threat, as the Chiefs went on to an 11-point victory.
Wisconsin Dells coach Bobby Buss said his team’s turnaround is the result of an improved defense and the numbers back him up. During the Chiefs’ first five games, which they won just one of, they gave up 53.8 points per game. During the five-game winning streak, the Chiefs are giving up just 35 points per contest.
“I just think overall lately, we’ve been playing great defense,” Buss said. “We stress it quite a bit, and I think the last three weeks to a month, it’s just something we’ve really concentrated on, and the girls are buying in.”
The defense also helps cover up for an offense that has yet to find its groove.
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“We struggle too at times to score, so our defense helps us out so much,” Buss said. “It’s very encouraging. We’re getting better. Where we are now from where we started, we’re head and shoulders above where we were. We just keep getting better.”
In the first half it was Wisconsin Heights that was in control. The Vanguards used a 7-0 run to take a 17-10 lead. The Vanguards led 24-18 when Wisconsin Dells got a 3-pointer from Gray and two free throws from Johnson to cut the deficit to 24-23 at halftime.
The 5-0 run to finish the first half combined with the 7-0 run to start the second half meant Wisconsin Dells scored 12 straight points, which led to it taking a lead it wouldn’t relinquish. Buss said stretches like that are becoming more common as the team gets more comfortable on offense.
“The girls are accepting their roles. That’s helped us quite a bit on the offensive end,” Buss said. “We’re doing a lot more screening. It’s fun to watch, because going in, a lot of these girls didn’t have a lot of varsity time, and they’re just starting to understand and adjust to the speed.”
Wisconsin Dells will be looking for a sixth win in a row when it returns to the court to play at Nekoosa on Friday. The Chiefs will also host River Valley on Monday.
Wisconsin Heights 24 12 — 36
Wisconsin Dells 23 24 — 47
WISCONSIN DELLS (fg ft-fta pts) — Smith 2 1-3 6, Meister 1 0-0 3, Anchor 3 3-6 9, Gray 6 2-4 17, Jones 2 0-0 5, Jonson 1 2-2 4, Thundercloud 1 1-3 3. Totals 16 9-18 47.
WISCONSIN HEIGHTS — Teela 1 1-1 3, Duhr 1 0-0 2, Adler 1 2-4 4, Keith 3 1-2 7, Handel 3 0-0 6, Hering 3 0-0 8, Schaefer 2 0-0 6. Totals 14 4-7 36.
3-point goals: WD 6 (Gray 3, Jones 1, Meister 1, Smith 1); WH 4 (Hering 2, Schaefer 2). Fouls: WD 5; WH 17.