An epic battle of stars

Its back to The Old Kingdom for the biggest high school event in La Crosse in the 20+ years I can recall.  Its Matt Thomas vs Bronson Koenig in their 1st of 2 meetings this season.  The ticket demand was so high for this one that the game was moved to the La Crosse Center, former home of the La Crosse Catbirds when Flip Saunders coached them.  The turnout did not disappoint as the local reports were an attendance of over 5000 people for the game.  The bigger building did take away some of the atmosphere but a great move to get this in a quality venue.  The teams will also play their second meeting there on January 31st

The Game
Onalaska tried to jump out early as they opened a 15-8 lead late in the 1st quarter.  Coach Rick Schneider gets his guys to respond out of timeouts as well as anybody I see.  That held true here as well as the Blugolds scored 8 of the last 10 in the quarter to cut the lead to 17-16.  Mike Conway keeping Aquinas afloat with 9 points in the quarter.

Koenig doesn't get his 1st field goal until the 3:32 mark of the 2nd quarter.  That ties the game at 26.  We'll go to halftime tied at 30.  Only 3 field goals between Thomas and Koenig to this point.   A very dull 3rd quarter highlighted by Koenig's last field goal that he converts into a 3 point play.  40-37 Aquinas going to the 4th.

Conway sits with his 4th foul with 6:25 left.  Thomas drives with the nice lefty finish and we're tied at 40 with 4 to play.  Conway back in with 3:13 left and Aquinas hasn't lost any ground.  Nolan Ritter comes up with a bank and a free throw to put Aquinas up 3.  Then Koenig with his 4th foul with 2:39 to play.   He gets moved off of Thomas and Thomas immediately goes to the post, gets the hack and the bucket is good on a goaltend.  He misses the free throw.  43-42 Aquinas with 2:24 left.  Ritter misses a front end but Onalaska can't convert.  Koenig drives on the other end and finds Reggie Rabb for a layup with 1:52 left.  45-42 Aquinas.  Thomas gets his best look of the night but can't knock down the 3.  Koenig rebounds and gets an Aquinas timeout with 1:20 left.  They run the clock down to 42.5 left before Rabb misses a front end.  Thomas fouled and makes both ends of the bonus with 25.7 left to cut the lead to 45-44.  Ritter makes 1 of 2 with 18.8 left.  Thomas rebounds the miss, takes the ball to the front court where Onalaska takes timeout with 7.3 left to draw up 1 final play.

Thomas catches in the backcourt and Koenig picks him up.  Here we go.  He drives off a right elbow ball screen and the ball gets stripped by Conway.  That runs out the clock and Aquinas hangs on 46-44.  Koenig 8 pts, 3 Ast on my sheet.  Thomas 18 points 3 Ast

The Tactics
Onalaska stayed with their usual 2-3 zone but they did add a couple of tweaks to it.  They extended full court 2-2-1 to drop back into it.  That allowed the Hilltoppers to double Koenig on the inbounds and then soft trap him in the backcourt if he did catch it.  It also took Aquinas out of lots of their sets that they'll run for Koenig against man defense.  Aquinas went with a vanilla 1-3-1 zone offense against the zone with Koenig playing some on top and some on the wing.  But with the wings not moving, that largely took Bronson out of play.  One gap that the zone showed though was that the middle of it was wide open.  Koenig took advantage of this 1 time with a flash and catch that he converted to a 3 point play.  I'm surprised that Aquinas never came to that with him.  Other guards got that same play in the game as well but it could have used more often.  Its something they'll want to clean up before they see Lakeview Christian at the Timberwolves Shootout in 2 weeks.  Only 2-6 FGs on my sheet for Koenig in the game.

On the Aquinas end, they chose to play their standard man, but have Koenig faceguard Thomas for almost all of the game.  Onalaska tried to get some backcuts from Thomas on elbow feeds but Koenig defended that well.  It did lead to Thomas getting some handoff opportunities where Koenig had to trail him off of it.  Those were the best looks Thomas got all night.  One other thing that was effective was to have Thomas set screens, in particular ball screens.  With Koenig not wanting to give any help, this allowed Hilltopper players to turn the corner.  Thomas ended up 6-22 shooting with Koenig hounding him all night.  Thomas had a chance or 2 in the post thanks to strength but Koenig's long arms make that entry really difficult.  I also thought Thomas pressed a bit on some of those misses

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