March Madness is officially upon us.
The Westwood girls basketball team will face off with Norway for the third time this season after drawing the Knights in the first round of the district playoffs. Norway dominated a mistake-filled matchup at Westwood in January, 41-17. Against all odds, the red-hot Patriots marched into Norway last week on their senior night and pulled off the upset 54-53, handing the Knights their first loss of the season. Now, game three.
Before the second game, Kurt Corcoran was going back and forth on whether it was a good idea to win that night. Should they “poke the bear” before districts, or lay low and try to catch them off guard in the third game? Well, winning on senior night is certainly poking the bear, but Westwood will be ready.
The Patriots closed out the season playing their best basketball of the entire season, winning five of their last six games. The lone loss came by two points to Negaunee on a controversial ending.
The two freshmen starters, Tessa Leece and Madelyn Koski, are no longer playing like freshmen. Koski dropped a career-high 28 points on Norway in the second matchup, including 13 free throws in the fourth quarter alone. Leece has turned into a sniper with a quick release and a nuisance for opposing teams on defense. Junior Liz Farley is a mid-range machine and a defensive stopper.
Corcoran watched the boys make a miraculous run in the state tournament last season. Now he wants his team to start a run of their own. But first, Norway.
Beating Norway the second time might be even harder than doing it the first time. No longer is Westwood an unknown underdog, just happy to be there. They’re a legitimate contender, and Norway won’t be caught sleeping again.
Jordan Kraemer, Norway’s top scorer, was out with foul trouble early in the first quarter of the second game and was virtually a non-factor in the first half. That likely won’t happen again. She finished the game with 23 points, 17 of those coming in the fourth quarter as she nearly brought Norway back by herself. If Westwood can limit Kraemer to 20 or less and neutralize her teammates, they have a chance.
Layups are also key. It seems simple, but sometimes the Patriots struggle under the hoop. Going against Norway’s press, they get a lot of layup opportunities. In the first matchup, there was a lid on the basket for the Patriots. In the second, those layups fell. If they can convert on their breakaway layups off the press, Westwood will be in good shape. Easier said than done against the Knights.
So will Westwood be moving on? Your guess is as good as mine.
Who: Norway Knights (19-1, 11-1) vs. Westwood Patriots (12-8, 7-5)
Where: West Iron County High School
When: 6 p.m. EST
Listen on ESPN UP 970 AM, 93.3 FM, espnup.com or the ESPN UP App