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Boys Basketball: Dogged D the key in Cards' win

Willmar's Kyler Johnson rises up in heavy traffic to get off a shot during the second half of the Cardinals 72-48 non-conference win over Montevideo on Saturday in Montevideo. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.1 / 2
Montevideo guard Troy Diggins, left, looks to pass out to the perimeter after meeting resistance along the baseline from Willmar's Tyler Stegeman, back, and Austin Grove during the first half of Willmar's 72-48 non-conference victory Saturday in Montevideo. Tribune photo by Tom Larson.2 / 2

MONTEVIDEO – Prep basketball coaches preach it constantly: Rebounding and defense equal victory.

Prep players maybe don’t always buy into the idea that boxing out and moving feet provide the surest path to victory, but the Willmar Cardinals were true believers in the hard-work ethos on Saturday.

Willmar played its annual early February non-conference game against a Montevideo team that is the tops in the West Central Conference, and the Cardinals rode – you guessed it – solid defense and tough rebounding to a 72-48 win in the Thunder Hawks’ iconic gym.

Willmar outscored the T-Hawks 20-8 in the final 10 minutes of the first half to lead 41-22 at halftime. The Cardinals held a 16-5 rebounding advantage in the first half, and they started the second half with an 11-0 run that pushed the margin to 30 points with 13 minutes to play. Montevideo, which averages 63 points per game, didn’t crack 30 until midway through the second half.

“Our defense had been a little off,” said Cardinals forward Kyler Johnson, who scored 12 points and was one of several defenders who put the clamps on T-Hawks’ sharpshooter Jordan Thompson. “We had a couple of good defensive practices and we came out and played a strong defensive game.”

Thompson hit a school-record 11 3-point shots and scored 33 points in Thursday’s 88-71 comeback win over 12-5 ACGC. But the Cardinals wrapped up Thompson on Saturday, limiting him to one first-half 3-pointer, his only points of the game. Monte hit 18 of 37 3-pointers against ACGC but the Cardinals held the T-Hawks to just 42 shots overall and 5-of-14 3-point shooting.

“Thompson is tough, so we made sure we knew where he was at all times,” Johnson said. “On offense, we pushed the ball a little bit more because we could tell they were a little tired in the second half. We tried to move well without the ball.”

The Cardinals got a game-high 18 points from Tyler Stegeman in their typically balanced attack. Austin Grove scored 14 points, Adam Nibaur had 11 and Dylan Schueler finished with 8.

A number of those points came off steals – Willmar had 8 for the game – and stout defense down low that led to transition baskets. Montevideo could never find its stride.

“I’m happy with how we played defense because Monte always shoots well in this gym,” said Cardinals head coach Steve Grove, obviously recalling the T-Hawks’ 69-64 victory over the 18-win Cards in 2012 in Monte. “Defense is always the toughest thing to do in games. We’re a work in progress and we’ll keep plugging away at it.”

Willmar has won seven of nine games since New Years and they are on a four-game winning streak. In four of those seven wins, the Cards have held opponents under 60 points. It’s proof that the old coaching mantra holds water.

“There’s no half-hearted defense,” Steve Grove said. “You’ve got to want to do it. If you don’t, you know what the result will be.”

Willmar 72, Montevideo 48

Willmar (14-5)…………..41 31 – 72

Montevideo (11-6)…..22 26 – 48

WILLMAR – 24-40 FG (6-12 3-pt); 6-10 FT; NA rebounds; 16 fouls … Scoring: Tyler Stegeman 18, Joel Carter 3, Josh Holtz 4, Dylan Schueler 8, Brady Damhof 2, Kyler Johnson 12, Adam Nibaur 11, Austin Grove 14 … 3-point shooting: Stegeman 2, Johnson 2, Nibaur 2.

MONTEVIDEO – 18-42 FG (5-14 3-pt); 7-15 FT; 19 rebounds; 10 fouls … Scoring: Spencer Hildahl 9, Dazhown Coleman 8, Jimmy Haff 6, Austin Hansen 6, Troy Diggins 5, Ricky Schmitz 5, Jordan Thompson 3, Adam Kilibarda 3, Bryce Maurice 2, Casey Reeves 1 … 3-point shooting: Hansen 2, Diggins 1, Thompson 1, Kilibarda 1 … Rebounding: Hildahl 4, Diggins 3, Thompson 2 … Assists: Coleman 5 … Steals: Coleman 3, Haff 2.

Tom Larson

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

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