Though Craig Amundson has been head coach of the successful Menomonee Falls girls basketball program for many years now, he is no authoritarian.
He trusts his assistants.
So when the 19-4 Indians trailed talented Hartford (15-8) by a 29-19 score at the half in the WIAA regional semifinal at Falls, he went looking for ideas.
"I let all of my assistants say something, and we put together a list," he said. "One said, 'Play hard for 16 minutes,' another said we needed to use more ball pressure and another said we need to pick up full-court.'"
And ball-pressure and full-court won the day for the Indians, as 12 third-quarter points from junior guard Mikayla Robertson fueled a 20-7 run in the session as Falls lived to fight another day with a 57-49 decision over the Orioles.
"It was a lot of things that we had done in practice," said assistant Brian Kirt. "They needed to show that they could fight through the difficulties that they saw."
And because they did, the Indians will advance to a WIAA regional final at sectional top seed and Classic 8 Conference co-champ Arrowhead (20-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday. Arrowhead barely survived a 51-47 decision over surprising Germantown on Friday night.
Senior forward Alex Poole, who had 17 points and who led a 37-24 advantage on the boards for the Indians with 11 rebounds, said the team never panicked.
"We'd been in these situations before and so we knew losing control and going crazy was not going to help us," she said. "We found that the first time we played Hamilton (the Greater Metro Conference champions). We lost by a lot the first time, but in the second game we played much better and then lost in overtime.
"We knew if we kept our heads in the game that we could do it."
Though that was easier said than done. The Orioles used a smooth-running balanced offense and took advantage of a turnover-plagued Falls team (12 in the first half) to take a 25-10 advantage with 5:13 left in the second quarter.
Falls made one good push at the end of the half and got the deficit down to seven before Hartford's Sara Spuhler hit a three-pointer late to give the Orioles a 29-19 lead at the break.
But the Indians used the lessons they learned at the half and continued pressing the not-as-deep Orioles. Falls started the third quarter with an 18-4 run, keyed by an 11-0 burst that took the game from 33-28 Hartford at the 5:20 mark to 37-33 Indians at the 1:53 mark.
Robertson, who finished with a game-high 22 points, finished that burst with a three-point play created off a steal. The Indians held the Orioles to just four second half field goals and never trailed again.
"The message was (at the break) was that we needed to play with more urgency," said Robertson. "We needed to go out there and make some plays."
They did. Falls got the lead up to 46-38 with 5:39 to go on a three-point play by Poole, who frequently used her great leaping ability to jump over the taller Hartford front line for rebounds.
The Orioles got back into the game through the foul line as the Indians put them in the bonus with 5:27 to go and the super-bonus with 3:34 remaining.
Two free throws by the Oiroles' Maria Stephens (13 points) with 3:34 left made it 47-45, but Poole answered with a nifty hoop on an inbounds play and Hartford would not score again for another three-plus minutes.
In that time, the Indians were able to clinch the game with a free throw from Poole, a fastbreak hoop from Robertson and an unusual backbreaking three-point play with 36 seconds left.
Point guard Amber Bullock had hit her first free throw, but then missed her second, but Poole deftly jumped around the Oriole defender for an offensive rebound and putback that madee it 55-45 with 33 seconds left.
"I give Alex a ton of credit for the way she responded after a slow start," said Amundson. "She showed a ton of senior leadership."
"...We talked about not being done yet. We've been down before, but to come back like this was big. Just a great learning experience for the kids."
Hartford was led by Kayla Krassmann with 16 points and Megan Beine with 11 while Erin Crownover helped the Indians with eight points as Rachel Defnet grabbed seven rebounds.
"Since about halfway through the season, we've worked hard on being mentally tough," said Robertson, who also added nine rebounds. "That's why we were able to stay strong tonight and come back."
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