Westwood's Rebels rode a stout 2-3 zone defense, balanced scoring, and cashed in 14-25 free throws in the second half alone to beat Cherokee's Braves 45-41 in Class 2A District Tournament action here on Feb. 12.
The loss ends the Braves' season with a disappointing 3-19 record, including half -a -dozen close games lost in the final seconds.
Meanwhile, the 18-4 Rebels take on South O'Brien in Cherokee at 7 o'clock Feb. 15 in the District semifinals. That winner will advance to the District finals at Sioux City North at 7 p.m. Tuesday Feb. 19.
South O'Brien beat Akron-Westfield 48-34 in the first game here Tuesday night. Jarod Syndergaard led the 15-7 Wolverines with 25 points, and Michael Oetken paced the 16-6 Westerners with 15 points.
Unbelievably, Cherokee lost the game thanks to a scoreless second quarter, almost unheard of in today's prep boys basketball. The Braves led 8-7 after the first period, and then couldn't get a shot to fall in the second due to Westwood's tough zone defense and the Braves inability to make a perimeter shot or get the ball inside. The Rebels led 19-8 at halftime.
The Braves came out smoking in the third quarter, thanks to halftime adjustments by coach Trent Coombs, and went on a 21-13 scoring tear to pull to within 32-29 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Rebels had what it takes to sustain that margin to the buzzer.
Matt Koch, scoreless in the first half as the turnovers mounted for Cherokee, led the Braves in scoring with 15 points, while Kyle Schuck added 11 and also grabbed 11 rebounds for a nifty double-double. Brock Dagel had three blocks for Cherokee, and Koch tallied four steals.
Chad Walker and Kody Gillaspie led Westwood with 11 points apiece, and Michael Gallagher added 10.
Cherokee sank 13-33 field goals for 39 percent, and hit just 1-13 three-pointers. The Rebels canned 13-37 shots for 35 percent, and was 3-6 in three-balls. The Braves netted 14-21 free throws, and Westwood 16-27.
"We did a good job on defense but just couldn't score when we needed it," said coach Coombs. "They're not a bad team, but we just weren't working the game plan to break their 2-3 zone defense. We tried to be patient on offense, but we just didn't get anything going all night on the perimeter.
"This season sure didn't feel like we only had three wins. The boys worked hard every night out. We just couldn't put four good quarters together. The boys battled. They deserve a lot of credit. We're very young and good things lie ahead for us. From start to finish this season, we improved. defensively we got better, but our shooting needs to improve if we're going to win."
Starting two juniors, a freshman, and two sophomores much of the season, the future is bright for the Braves. The team graduates the lone senior, guard Dillon Moye, who was a principal perimeter threat for the Braves.
"We all worked hard this season and that will pay off for next season when everybody is a year older and more experienced," added Coombs.