The Wauwatosa East boys basketball team has been looking for it all season. If you can find it, let coach Tim Arndorfer know.
The Red Raiders are 3-4 overall, 1-2 in the Greater Metro Conference. They have defeated Kettle Moraine (4-3) of the Classic Eight Conference, Marquette (5-2) of the Greater Metro Conference and last week they handed a loss to Cedarburg (8-2) of the North Shore Conference. These teams are all among the favorites to win their conferences.
They have also played decent in a loss to Waunakee (8-2) of the Badger North Conference. Their other losses — not as pretty — have come to conference foes Brookfield Central (5-4) and Sussex Hamilton (7-2).
They also suffered a 56-36 loss to Onalaska (6-2) of the Mississippi Valley Conference on Dec. 29 in the Wisconsin Yearbook Basketball Tournament.
But the next day they bounced back and defeated Tom Diener's fifth-ranked Cedarburg team (8-2), 56-51, in a thriller.
'Maybe we need more consistency in our preparation,' Arndorfer said. 'Once the ball is tipped, we need to have the energy and keep it up. We've talked to them about the tradition, the fact that we have a lot of alumni coming back for the holidays. We just want to make sure they understand that.
'We had that energy against Cedarburg but not Onalaska. We had the energy against Marquette. We have to find a way to harness that. It has been a roller coast in the first seven games.'
Onalaska took a 26-17 halftime lead thanks to an 8-0 run, as Tosa East struggled from the field, shooting 21 percent overall, including 2-for-18 (.111) from the 3-point arc.
'We played a 2-3 zone in the first half, but we had a lot of trouble with it,' Arndorfer said. 'Then their shooters heated up.'
The Hilltoppers went on a 30-19 run in the second half to put Tosa East away.
The Red Raiders had nine of 15 players get on the board, but no one made it to double figures. Jai'Vionne Green, Najee Stewart and D.J. Verser had 6 points each to lead the way.
Arndorfer was worried about how the Red Raiders would come out.
'We lacked a lot of energy,' he said. 'Blame it on the holiday, whatever. But the effort was unacceptable. Give credit to them, too. We struggle in stretches. We're not consistent. The players are starting to know the roles, and they need to play within themselves.'
In the shoot-around the next day, Arndorfer had some words of wisdom for his team.
'I told them to have a short memory,' he said. 'Just focus on the things we can control. Playing hard, we can control that. Your energy, effort, being strong on the defensive end.'
Cedarburg took a 31-24 lead at intermission as things didn't look good for the Red Raiders.
But Tosa East held the Bulldogs to 20 points in the second half while scoring 32 to earn the 56-51 win despite 23 points by star guard John Diener, who had to work for every point he had with Dane Mikkelson guarding him.
'We made him work for every point,' Arndorfer said. 'All the guys on the floor played hard. It was a testament to the way they responded.'
So what was the difference in the second half?
'Defensive effort,' Arndorfer said. 'We made some adjustments. Our halfcourt trap, that threw them off.'
Green scored 20 points, Stewart added 14 and Blake Kratzer scored 10 to lead the offense. Arndorfer gave a special tip of the hat to Kratzer.
'Kratzer been a sparkplug,' he said. 'He started shooting. He had been passing up those shots. He pulled the trigger with a great second half.
'Jai'Vionne had 14 of his 20 points in the second half. He struggled in the first and ended up being the MVP of the game.'
Green is averaging 15 points per game, the only Red Raider in double figures.
'There is no doubt he is the other team's primary focus,' Arndorfer said. 'He has given us consistent scoring. If they take him away, other guys need to respond. The need to find what their roles are, trying to do what they are capable of doing.
'We have some guys looking to get other people the ball; some guys taking the shots, not passing them up.'
D.J. Verser, a 6-foot-3-inch forward, returned to the team for the tournament, and his size and experience should be a lift for the Red Raiders.
'He's a kid who can bring more energy to the team, and energy is contagious,' Arndorfer said. 'Cal Rohde, he's really coming into his own. His role is score when he can but keep balls alive on the boards. He had 13 rebounds against Onalaska.'
But in the end, it all comes down to defense, the staple for most Tosa East teams.
'Defense puts you in a position to win,' Arndorfer said. 'Defense can help you put the ball in the basket. This is a different group than last year.'
Tosa East, which faced Milwaukee Lutheran in a nonconference game Jan. 5, have three straight home games coming up.
Coming to town is Menomonee Falls (6-3, 1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8; Whitnall (6-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9; and West Allis Hale (7-1, 3-0) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.