To see how much Wauwatosa East's girls basketball team has improved over the past two months, look no further than the difference in its two meetings with Brookfield East.
The Red Raiders lost by 26 points to the Spartans in their conference opener on Dec. 2. Since then, Tosa East has won nine of its last 10, including seven straight after a 48-35 victory over Brookfield East on Jan. 20.
With the win, Tosa East moved into a second-place tie with Divine Savior Holy Angels in the Greater Metro at 5-2, two games behind Sussex Hamilton at the halfway mark of conference play.
"It was a great win for our kids," Tosa East coach Rob Hamill said. "I think when it was all said and done, they proved something to themselves."
By holding the Spartans to just 14 points in the first half, the Red Raiders were able to take a 19-14 lead into halftime. Tosa East found its offensive flow in the second half, scoring 29 points over the final 18 minutes to pull away.
"Brookfield East played pretty good defense themselves, but to our credit, we didn't let ourselves get too frustrated and consistently went back on defense and looked to lock them down," Hamill said. "I was very happy with our mental approach when things were tough on our offensive end throughout the game.
"We took better care of the ball in the second half. We had way too many turnovers in the first. I also think what happens as the game goes on is that fatigue sets in for both teams. Whichever team is able to best manage that fatigue gets an advantage. I think we had a little advantage in that way. We got on a little run midway through the second half and were able to keep that margin with the solid defense we had."
Brookfield East shot just 27.3 (15-for-55) against Tosa East's defense, making just 3 of 11 attempts from beyond the arc and hitting just 2 of 11 free-throw tries. During their seven-game winning streak, the Red Raiders have held teams to just 39.1 points per game and have held their last four conference foes to 38.0 points per contest.
"The key to our defense is that we have a team where all 13 on the squad serve the interests of the team first, and they work all week in practice to make the team successful," Hamill said. "They understand the concepts we are teaching and do their best to execute them.
"We knew what hurt us the first time we played them is that we didn't consistently defend their screens well and left shooters uncontested. I think we did a much better job of that this game."
Sophomore forward Brooklyn Blackburn led Tosa East with 13 points. Senior forward Johanna Taylor added 11 points, sophomore guard Sydney Halstead had 9 points and junior guard Mariana Ibanez-Baldor scored 6 points.
Tosa East has an important week ahead when it comes to staying in the Greater Metro race. The Red Raiders were scheduled to host Brookfield Central on Jan. 24 before welcoming in first-place Sussex Hamilton at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27.
"Each week ahead of us is super challenging," Hamill said. "I think any team in our conference can beat any other team on any given night. I think the teams are really equal, and we have to have to be at our best each day and each game to finish with success.
"I think we are a good team that has a chance to be a very good team, but it is going to take a whole lot of effort and determination to get to the next level."