The Alexandria boys’ basketball team made sure to point out that they weren’t satisfied with just getting to the state tournament, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t appreciate the experience after a loss to Austin on Wednesday afternoon.
The Packers were the second-place team in Class AAA last season and have three seniors in Bret Lukes, Ajuda Nywesh and Zach Wessels who all averaged right around 14 points per game this year. All three of those guys carried the load for Austin on Wednesday as Wessels had 23, Nywesh added 15 and Lukes finished with 10.
“They’re pretty athletic,” Alexandria’s Brandon Bistodeau said. “It’s pretty tough to stop them. There’s not much you can do.”
They ultimately proved to be the difference for Austin as the rest of the Packers team combined to score just 13 points. You can read my entire story on yesterday’s game and the reaction from Bistodeau, John Vogeler and head coach Forrest Witt on our website.
Here is more of what they had to say on their season and yesterday’s game, along with a bunch of photos. Williams Arena is always a fun place to shoot pictures with the elevated floor providing some pretty cool angles.
* Getting a chance to play on the Williams Arena court is something many kids in Minnesota dream of and the players on this team didn’t take that for granted.
“It was awesome,” Bistodeau said. “It’s a dream as a kid. We finally got to play on this court. At the end of the day it’s just a game, but it was an exciting moment.”
* The Cardinals knew that Austin was going to run a 1-2-2 zone press pretty much the whole game, and it took a little while for them to get comfortable against it.
Alexandria had four turnovers in the first three minutes and didn’t score until 4 minutes, 59 seconds into the game when Vogeler hit a three from the top of the key.
“We practiced it all week so we knew it was coming,” Bistodeau said. “It was a little tough to get used to, but we got used to it. It slowed us down a little bit.”
The Cardinals broke the zone in the second half by being aggressive pushing the ball up the court. They got a few buckets in transition and it helped lead to a 21-6 run that pulled them to within one point at 43-42 with 8 minutes, 24 seconds left.
“They’ve played it all year and they play it very well,” Witt said of Austin’s zone. “You give them credit for that, but our JV got us prepared and I thought we did attack it pretty well. We had some opportunities that we missed, and I thought in transition we did a good job. Not a great job, but we wanted to push the basketball hard and not let them get set up in their 1-2-2.”
* Austin’s senior guard Ajuda Nywesh got hot in the first half on his way to 11 points by the break. He hit three triples in the half and showed off his handle and athleticism in finding ways to get off his shot.
Nywesh is 6’1″ and has a thin frame, so the Cardinals wanted to be a little more physical while guarding him in the second half. Vogeler drew that challenge and helped his team hold Nywesh to four points after the break.
“We just try to stay together,” Vogeler said. “We’re switching a lot of ball screens out there, and we went through the game plan. We know he’s a shooter but sometimes great players make plays and you tip your hat off to him. I just tried to get more physical with him. I had two fouls so I couldn’t put myself at risk and get into foul trouble, but yeah, just try to be more physical with him.”
* Witt was happy with the way his team responded after being down by 16 early in the second half on Wednesday.
The Cardinals’ answer to that 8-0 run by the Packers was a 21-6 run of their own. They had two possessions with a chance to take the lead in a 43-42 game that resulted in a missed jumper and a turnover. Vogeler said the team was confident that they could get over the hump at that point, but that Austin wasn’t going to be a team that would fold down the stretch.
“I think everybody felt confident but we knew they were going to make another run after that,” Vogeler said. “Everybody here is good, so you can’t just shut them down. We knew they were going to make some plays when we were down one. I think that’s what they did. We just couldn’t pull it off.”
* The loss on Wednesday marked the end of the careers for four senior starters in Bistodeau, Vogeler, Chase Kohler and David Krivanek.
Witt praised the effort of those guys and how they helped the program take the next step this season.
“Your seniors are always going to be the guys you look to to lead your basketball team and those guys certainly did that,” Witt said. “They left their mark on the basketball program. We tell the kids, it’s bigger than any one individual, it’s bigger than any one group of seniors. But they can be proud and happy of the job they did in being the first team to get us to state here in 12 years and in our tenure as coaches. We’re extremely proud of them and what the future of Alexandria basketball is.”