BELOIT—Verona’s girls basketball team came to town Saturday night toting a reputation for showing about as much mercy as Thanos after the fallout from a well-publicized 106-11 thrashing of Janesville Parker on Dec. 8.
Social media vilified the Wildcats, including a stinging critique from former Janesville state senator Tim Cullen in a Madison.com column, who questioned “the adult leadership” that allowed a 95-point victory. All that was missing was Hub Arkish calling them “the biggest jerks in the Big Eight.”
The fact of the matter is that the Wildcats aren’t so scary. They’re not unbeatable. They’re 8-4 overall and have in fact lost twice in the Big Eight (to Janesville Craig and Sun Prairie).
Head coach Angie Murphy has been unapologetic about her team’s style of play and the fact they tend to stick with it whether it’s close or they’re ahead by boatload. They pressure the ball relentlessly and they do not have a deep bench so there isn’t a lot of drop-off when they substitute.
Beloit Memorial didn’t have quite the disaster experienced by the Vikings, but Saturday’s 92-32 final score still left some fans shaking their heads over why the Wildcats seemed to be so excited over each basket with a 60-point lead.
Beloit Coach Dilonna Johnson for one wasn’t questioning the Wildcats’ motives.
“I have no problem with how they played,” Johnson said. “They had their bench players in and their starters were getting excited about them scoring. Kudos to their team for having that team chemistry and them all being excited about seeing each other hitting shots.”
Johnson’s only regret was that her team wasn’t at full strength to take on the Wildcats.
“We always have freshmen playing up, but we had three more jayvee kids playing up because we were missing kids due to COVID,” Johnson said. “Tajah Randall didn’t play and she’s a key player for us. Then we lost Bre (Davis). There were a lot of key factors hurting us in this game.”
The key factor, though, was Verona’s tenacious defense which had the Knights flustered from the start. They fell behind 19-1 as the Wildcats seemed to convert every Beloit turnover into a fastbreak layup. That is when they weren’t converting 10 3-pointers.
When Davis dislocated her shoulder on a collision late in the first half, it cost the Knights their leading rebounder and any chance they had to keep the Wildcats at bay on the backboards. The deficit just kept getting larger and larger and whatever kinder, gentler etiquette remembered by chivalrous folks like Cullen resides only somewhere in parochial leagues..
Everything considered, Johnson couldn’t be too critical of her Knights’ effort.
“I told my girls afterward I was proud of the way they played,” Johnson said. “They could have given up. They could have started walking on the court. They were still giving effort and trying the whole game.
“In those moments where our star players are ill or injured we have to come together as a team and play together. I told them they were all kind of playing on their own island. They need to swing the ball more. They need to dribble with their left hand. They need to cut through hard. We weren’t reading how they were playing us like they read how we played them.”
Johnson said her young team, relying on so many first-year players, still has a lot of learning to do.
“They have to trust each other and not play as individuals,” she said. “Once they play as a team more there will be better outcomes and they will feel better about themselves.”
Playing against a team like Verona, which recognizes that and is successful because of it, will benefit her team in the long run.
“We have plenty of season left,” she said. “We still go there and hopefully Bre and Taja will be back and it will be a different kind of game.”