Most all of the main characters from act one will be returning for act two, but a few of them believe you’ll be in for a surprise by the ending of this much-anticipated hoops play. Or hoops replay, as the case really is here.
“I think we’re a better team than last year, I think we’re a better defensive team,” Dubuque Senior Coach Wendell Eimers said. “I’m really looking forward to the Rams giving them a good ballgame Friday night.”
You just don’t get No. 1 verus No. 2 much in prep basketball during the regular season, so Friday night’s Senior at Iowa City West tilt is exciting. It’s about a 7:30 opening tip for a game that will be televised live on KCRG-9.2, with recently retired KCRG sports director John Campbell handling the play-by-play duties.
West (7-0) comes in No. 1 in Class 4A and Senior (6-0) No. 2.
“Number one against number two. A conference game, a divisional game. A lot of implications,” said West Coach Steve Bergman. “When you haven’t played in two weeks, it’s always nerveracking. I’m sure they feel the same way. We took four days off for Christmas. But I thought we practiced well last week.”
These teams both made last year’s state tournament, with West completing an unbeaten season with the championship. Senior lost its quarterfinal to Linn-Mar on a last-second shot.
Senior and West met once last season under similar circumstances (West was undefeated and Senior had one loss), and it wasn’t close. The Trojans had their way in a 68-48 February win.
Seven of the 10 starters in that game will be starters Friday night, so what makes anyone think it’ll be closer this time?
“We’re very, very excited to be going to Iowa City West to play what is, without a doubt, the best team in the state,” Eimers said. “We’re just hoping to play better than we did last time. We hope to get into the fourth quarter close, and then we’ll see if we can win the game. Our defense this season has been what I’ve most been impressed with. Our kids are getting after it on the defensive end. Overall they are very, very hungry.”
Senior averages 10 offensive rebounds a game, which Bergman said his team must prevent. The Rams three best players are senior forward Josh Weeber, junior swingman Kyle Haber and junior center Seth Bonifas.
A first-team all-stater last season and an Upper Iowa signee, Weeber is still trying to get into optimal shape after tearing his Achilles tendon last summer. The 6-foot-9 Bonifas was offered a scholarship by Iowa last fall as a sophomore, though he’s been slow to develop, averaging just 10 points and 4.3 rebounds.
“I’ve been happy with his progress,” Eimers said. “He is much, much stronger than he was a year ago. I think he’s kind of cleared that hurdle of not thinking about what move he is going to make with the ball, and just going up with his shot.”
It hasn’t been a smooth ride thus far for a West team that has won 33 consecutive games. The Trojans have three Division I college players in senior swingman Jeremy Morgan (Northern Iowa), senior guard Dondre Alexander (Southern Mississippi) and junior guard Wyatt Lohaus (Northern Iowa).
West had to get a last-second 3-pointer from Austin Swank to win its season opener in November over Davenport Assumption, and Alexander was suspended for three games. That being said, West’s closest game since its opener has been 13 points and it has allowed an average of just 36 over its last four.
“I see better things in practice,” Bergman said. “But when we get into games, we lose that a little bit. I had a coaching friend of mine say to me recently ‘You guys just aren’t guarding like you’re used to,’ and I think he’s right.”