Until we hear otherwise, let's just work under the assumption that Madison Memorial's boys basketball team will be playing in the state high school championship game at the Kohl Center every year, okay?
With a 68-48 schooling of Appleton East Friday night, the Spartans earned a chance to compete for the coveted gold ball trophy for the third straight year and the sixth time in the last seven years. This is Memorial's seventh straight trip to the state tournament where it won the title in 2005 and 2009 and finished second in 2004, 2006 and 2008.
Led by senior Vander Blue's 21 points, sophomore Junior Lomomba's 12 rebounds and a balanced attack that saw scoring from eight different players, Memorial recovered from a three-point first-quarter deficit to put away its second state tournament opponent from the Fox Valley Conference. Typically known for strong defensive play, Neenah (Memorial's 58-41 victim on Thursday night) and Appleton East got lessons in the aggressive half-court trap from the Spartans.
"[Assistant coach Cory Moore] gets on us every day in practice about being aggressive," said Blue after the game. "If you're going to go after the ball, go after it a hundred percent. Make a mistake going a hundred percent. We want to avoid fouls, but we want to get our hands on it. We're a pretty long team so we get a lot of deflections which leads to a lot of breaks."
Memorial also kept Appleton East off the glass, limiting the Patriots to only one offensive rebound in the first half. Rebounds and steals led to outlet passes which allowed the Spartans to use their speed to get down the floor and score on breakaway layups. Memorial attempted only seven three pointers compared to 21 for Appleton East.
In Saturday's final, Memorial will have to deal with a Hartland Arrowhead team that outlasted Milwaukee Marquette, 60-58, in the other semi-final, a game Arrowhead coach Craig Haase called a "flat-out war." None of the players getting substantial playing time for Memorial is taller than 6'5" while Arrowhead center Ben Mills, who scored 22 points and collected 10 rebounds against Marquette, stands 7'1".
The Spartans cruised in the second half Friday night and Blue -- who finished with 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals -- was in good spirits as he entered the media room for the post-game press conference. "Any requests?" he quipped as he took the microphone. As might be expected for a team led by seniors Blue and Tre Creamer, who both started as sophomores, Memorial is comfortable with the pressure and attention that come with playing for a title.
"My father told me to take advantage of every moment of this because it's a once in a lifetime experience," said junior guard Tre' Burnette who scored 16 off the bench Friday night. "I think everybody feels that we're in the moment right now."
Collins acknowledges that he's got a loose group which thankfully doesn't reflect his own state of mind this time of year.
"I usually get sick a couple times before these big games," he said.
The Division I title game will tip off at approximately 8:15 pm Saturday night at the Kohl Center. The game will be televised on Madison's WKOW-TV.