Having lost five of its last seven games with its head coach suddenly stepping down in the process, Wauwatosa West's boys basketball team faced a crucial stretch against two teams below it in the Woodland West standings last week.
It was a golden opportunity for the Trojans to get back on track with a big week looming. However, a setback against teams at the bottom of the league standings would have added to recent struggles.
But Tosa West was up for the challenge, using big first halves to grab wins over Greendale and New Berlin West, downing the Panthers, 74-54, on Feb. 7 and taking care of the Vikings, 89-78, on Feb. 10.
The two wins, the first victories since Pat McCabe took over as interim head coach following Chad Stelse's resignation on Feb. 3, lifted the Trojans to 11-8 overall and back over .500 in the Woodland West at 7-6.
"There is no doubt that it feel great to be back on the winning side of things," McCabe said. "The guys have done a great job of dealing with and processing the emotions that go with the news of having a new coach mid-stream. That is not an easy situation for them. That said, I am very proud of the character they have shown and the way they have responded."
Tosa West jumped on Greendale from the opening tip, controlling the game on both ends of the floor to take a 31-19 halftime lead. The Trojans were able to continue the momentum into the second half, outscoring the Panthers, 43-35, to come away with a 20-point victory.
"We had a couple of good practices and talked about the importance of playing with purpose and urgency," McCabe said. "The guys bought in and carried that over into the game. They were focused and ready to play right from the tip. They executed the game plan on both ends of the floor and flat out competed."
The Trojans had 10 different players score against Greendale, with junior guard Noah Katula leading the way with 17 points on four made 3-pointers. Senior guard Paris Howell added 15 points and five rebounds, senior forward Alou Dillon scored 13 points with 13 rebounds, four assists and four steals and senior forward Tyrone Powell had 12 points and six rebounds.
Tosa West used another fast start to take control against New Berlin West, as the Trojans controlled the pace and tempo over the opening 18 minutes to hold a 34-19 halftime advantage. The second half became bogged down by fouls, as the Vikings found themselves in the bonus after nearly three minutes of play. Tosa West ended up being called for 31 team fouls and had three players foul out.
New Berlin West made a run to cut a 20-point deficit to single digits, but the Trojans responded to close out the game.
"As with the Greendale game, I loved the way we came out," McCabe said. "We were loose but focused. We played hard on the defensive end and were able to get good looks on the offensive side. We also did a nice job of controlling the boards.
"The second half got a little sloppy. There was not a comfortable flow to the game for us in the second half with lots of free throws by both teams. I think we did a decent job of maintaining our focus after some tough situations on the court. We finished the game out and didn't beat ourselves, which is a step in the right direction for us."
Dillon finished with a season-high 29 points to go along with nine rebounds and five blocks. Powell finished with 21 points and five rebounds, Katula added 12 points, Howell had 10 points, senior guard Seveon James had eight points and six rebounds and sophomore guard Marquiss Childs had six points and six assists.
After going 30-for-65 (46.2 percent) in the Greendale win, Trojans shot 31-for-64 (48.4 percent) from the field and 21-for-29 (72.4 percent) from the foul line against the Vikings.
Tosa West was scheduled to host Pius XI (15-4, 9-4 Woodland West), ranked No. 6 in Division 2, on Feb. 15 in a makeup game from an earlier postponement. The Trojans will travel to Pewaukee to face the Woodland West champion and seventh-ranked Pirates (18-2, 13-1) at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Feb. 17.