Forget what its overall record is, Eau Claire North is unbeaten in February and playing its best basketball of the season.
The Huskies toppled Rice Lake 54-45 on Thursday night in girls basketball action at the Doghouse. It was the third straight win for a North team that took a while to find its stride but is now just a game back of third place in the Big Rivers.
“This team top to bottom has been working really hard,” coach Michelle Peplinski said. “We have multiple kids that are stepping in and doing great things.”
Senior Brook Becker had 13 points to lead a balanced scoresheet that included nine Huskies, while sophomore Bailey Thompson chipped in with nine off the bench.
North pushed the lead out to 12 early with some hot shooting and took a nine-point advantage into the half. Rice Lake trimmed the lead to four on a Brooke Olson 3 midway through the second half, but the Huskies responded with a Becker layup and a strip and finish from Thompson to push the lead back to eight. North then put the game away with its defense.
“I didn’t think we shot the ball real well at the beginning, gave up some looks we didn’t want to, but I think after that point I think our kids really responded and played well,” Warriors coach Darla Olson said.
Ball movement has been the difference of late for North (10-10, 4-6) and Thursday night was no different. The Huskies use of skip passes was especially effective against the Warriors (14-6, 5-5).
“We do a nice job of spacing the court,” Peplinski said. “That allows to have some curls and some screens, and some unpredictable movement because of the fact that we have space. What goes unnoticed is we have some of the greatest screeners in the conference and they really create opportunities for people.”
On the other end, Olson, a Division II Minnesota-Duluth recruit, finished with 17 points but it was tough sledding for the 6-foot-2 senior. In the first meeting between the teams — a 48-42 win for the Warriors — the Huskies threw a zone at Olson, but Peplinski said that created too many open looks for Rice Lake’s shooters. This time around, North went man-to-man with a dedicated helper for whoever was guarding Olson.
“We made sure we were always packing the lane because she’s a really good inside scorer,” senior Mattea Peplinski said. “The guard pressure was just phenomenal and that helps with post entry passes — can’t get the ball in as easy.”
Next up for North is the second city clash with Memorial on Tuesday. The Huskies won the first meeting 48-35 at Memorial, but both teams have made huge strides since that game on Jan. 8. The Old Abes have won three straight in conference and four of their last six.
“I think both teams will bring a lot of energy,” Thompson said, “but we’re more confident — I’m sure they are too — but I think we’re ready for it.”