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Tribune photo by Tom Larson New London-Spicer guard Ryan Vraa applies pressure on the perimeter against Eden Valley-Watkins’ Bret Mattice in the Section 6AA semifinals on March 4. NLS will need to do the same in their Class AA state tournament quarterfinals game against Annandale today at Target Center in Minneapolis.

Boys basketball: NLS to face No. 1-seed Annandale in quarters

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The New London-Spicer boys basketball team can play some exciting offense but the Wildcats are well aware that defense and rebounding is what’s taken them to the Class AA state tournament.

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The Wildcats will need to perform both probably as well as they have all year if they hope to survive tonight’s quarterfinals matchup with No. 1-seed Annandale.

“Ball pressure and our pressure defense has been the difference in our last four or five games,” said NLS head coach Chad Schmiesing, whose team is 19-10 and has won seven straight games. “In the section final against Melrose, ball pressure in the backcourt and in the frontcourt was too much for them right away and it helped us score a lot of easy baskets. I like to think that’s been the biggest key for us in the playoffs.”

The Wildcats blew out to a 21-point halftime lead against Melrose and held off the Dutchmen’s second half rally to win by 11 points.

In their two previous games, the Wildcats had fallen behind early before their defense kicked in and they took control.

Against Melrose, the Wildcats won the rebound battle 41-22 and they also outrebounded Paynesville 48-33 in a 62-45 win in the section quarterfinals.

“We’ve been defending well and rebounding well,” said NLS guard Ryan Vraa. “Those have been our two main focus areas. I think defense leads to offense and we want to continually pressure Annandale, make them take difficult shots and when they do shoot it, limit them to one shot and get running.”

Annandale will make that plan tough to implement. The Cardinals run their offense through post players Andrew Fort ( 6-foot-3, 13.7 points per game) and Matt Miller (6-3, 16.9 points per game), who are adept at taking the ball to the basket. If that clogs up, they find a shooter like Chase Knickerbocker (6-6, 16 points per game).

The Cardinals, who placed third in last year’s Class AA tournament, are a veteran team that handles pressure well.

“They don’t panic,” Schmiesing said. “They fell behind early (in the 5A final) but they just kept chipping away. “Their post players (Miller and Fort) are good at creating offense on the dribble drive to the basket.”

But the Wildcats were without 6-4 Ethan Bohlsen the first time they played the Cardinals (a 61-50 Annandale win) and they were without 6-6 Tyson Gislason the second time they played (a 61-57 Cardinals victory).

“We have a completely different feeling now than we had in both those games,” Schmiesing said. “In both games, we were missing a big guy and that certainly affected us because their two best players are post players.”

Offensively, getting out on the break will be important, Vraa said.

Against Melrose, the Wildcats’ Brett Olson (16 points per game) and Shane Zylstra (14 points per game) were able to get free for transition baskets early. Once Melrose zoned up on the Wildcats, points were harder to come by.

“We like to run on offense,” Vraa said. “We’re not the best half-court team. Against Melrose, we got a little hesitant. I wouldn’t say we took our foot off the gas pedal but we were more focused on running clock than getting out on offense. But we’re not a bad half-court team. We’ve got size and we can work an inside-outside game.”

In addition to Zylstra and Olson, Vraa is averaging almost 10 points per game and leads the team with 4.1 assists per game.

Gislason averages almost 8 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game.

Zylstra is the team’s top rebounder, averaging 9.2 per game.

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Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

(320) 214-4372
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