Over the past three seasons, Wauwatosa West's boys basketball team has had countless battles with Pius XI.
It was yet another back-and-forth affair between the two rivals on Jan. 20. The Popes used a late run to come away with a 71-67 victory over the Trojans in what was a battle for outright control of second place in the Woodland West.
Pius improved to 10-2 overall and 5-2 in the Woodland West, while Tosa West fell to 8-5 and 4-3 in league play.
"We've had a lot of close games with Pius the last few years," Tosa West coach Chad Stelse said. "I expected much of the same this year, and that's exactly what we got. I look forward to getting them back at our place and hopefully winning a close game like we did last season to earn a split with them."
The first half was filled with runs, as Pius opened the game on an 11-1 spurt. Tosa West went without a field goal over the first 4 minutes, 14 seconds of the game before a quick 11-3 run brought the Trojans to within 14-12. The Popes then used a 10-2 burst to go up, 24-14, on a 3-pointer by Victor Nwagbaraocha with 8:04 remaining in the half. Tosa West had an answer, rattling off a 13-2 run to take its first lead at 27-26 on a layup by Javaree Jackson.
Tosa West shot just 35.3 percent in first half, mostly due to making just 4 of 18 3-point attempts. The Trojans shot fewer 3-pointers in the second half but still finished 7-for-27 from distance for the game.
"I thought we shot too many 3-pointers, in particular in the first half," Stelse said. "We have been a decent perimeter shooting team all season, but when we miss our first five or six 3s, we need to try a different approach and pound the ball inside. If the 3-point shot isn't falling at a high percentage, we need to attack the rim for higher percentage looks, which we did a better job of in the second half."
James evens score
Seveon James hit a jumper early in the second half to even the score at 34-34, beginning a nearly 16-minute stretch where neither team led by more than 6 points.
With Pius leading 57-54 with 2:21 left, Victor Nwagbaraocha split a pair of free throws. Tosa West then turned the ball over leading to a fastbreak dunk by Preston Maccoux. Jackson was whistled for a foul fighting for a rebound off a miss by Marquiss Childs, sending Zach Zavada to the line. Zavada hit both free throws, and the Popes led, 62-54, with 1:56 left.
James drilled a 3-pointer off an offensive rebound by Noah Katula to bring the Trojans to within 62-57 with 1:35 remaining, but Maccoux quickly scored on the end for the Popes. Another triple by James made it 64-60 with 47 seconds to play and a 3-point play by Alou Dillon brought Tosa West to within 66-63 with 27 seconds left.
Pius didn't allow for a window for Tosa West to have a shot to tie the game, however, as Michael Pitrof and Victor Nwagbaraocha combined to go 7-for-8 from the foul line over the final 38 seconds of the game.
"I give them credit for knocking down their free throws when they needed them most," Stelse said. "We really attacked down the stretch to close the gap, but when the other team makes eight straight free throws in the last two minutes, you have to give them credit."
Pitrof led the Popes with 20 points. Nwagbaraocha added 19 points and six rebounds; Maccoux scored 15 points with eight rebounds; and Zavada had 14 points with eight rebounds.
Dillon scored a game-high 26 points with 11 rebounds and four blocks. James finished with 12 points; Jackson had 10 points and eight rebounds; and Childs filled the box score with 6 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
Tosa West shot 36.5 (23-for-63) from the field but still hit two more field goals than Pius due in part to a 14-8 edge on offensive rebounds and a 45-35 rebounding advantage. The Popes won the game at the free-throw line, where they outscored the Trojans by 8 points (14-of-21 to 22-of-28).
The Trojans were scheduled to face New Berlin Eisenhower (7-5, 4-4 Woodland West) on Jan. 24 before hosting Cudahy (3-9, 1-6 Woodland East) at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27.
Seven of Tosa West's final nine games are at home. Its two remaining road games are challenging ones, however, as the Trojans will play at Brown Deer on Jan. 31 and on the road at Pewaukee on Feb. 17.
"It's a grind right now, and we need to pick ourselves up and get right back at it," Stelse said. "In this conference, there's no time to feel sorry for yourselves. It is time to move on and compete. Hopefully, some home cooking will be good for us."