ROCKFORD — Let’s look back at January 26, 2021. That was the date of the first meeting between Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Rockford in boys basketball, and the Lakers led by six at halftime in that one. Rockford surged back to win 78-73 in HLWW’s gym, but the frontcourt combo of Drew Burau and Spencer Lade scored 36 points in the loss — showing that on their better nights, the Lakers can compete with the best of the Wright County West and Section 5AA.
Friday’s rematch in Rockford didn’t play out as smoothly, especially on offense. HLWW got the looks they wanted early against the Rockets’ man-to-man defense — then the vaunted 3-2 zone was implemented and the Lakers had trouble finding the paint they dominated so well back on Jan. 26, dropping the contest 71-42.
“The difference was they had the top guy in their zone drop and cover the high post,” HLWW senior forward Spencer Lade said. “That made it tougher for the guards to get the ball into us. Last game we’d get the ball inside and the Rockford defenders would collapse on me, which led to open kickouts or easy layups for my teammates.”
That small adjustment from Rockford was enough to force the Lakers into corners as they scanned for open lanes to drive and pass into. It didn’t help matters that the Rockets were on fire from downtown all game, even without starting point guard Ryan Boysen. Nolan Perry made HLWW pay for leaving him open beyond the arc multiple times, scoring 15 points.
When the Lakers did find openings to score inside and got good looks from the outside, the basketball gods didn’t comply.
“That’s the game of basketball. Sometimes they go down, sometimes they don’t,” HLWW coach James Carr said. “In games like this, we’re telling guys, ‘keep playing hard until the end.’ I’m proud of how they kept playing. Every time we hit the court, we’re always looking to improve.”
HLWW trailed 35-18 at halftime and Rockford kept them at that distance the entire half, extending the lead to as much as 26 by the time the benches were emptied. Lade scored a team-high 10 points, while the guard trio of Carson Woolhouse, Bennett Paulson and Noah Bush added six each.
The efficient high-low pairing of Burau and Lade didn’t get the touches it normally would; the Rockets played a majority of the game with five guards and wings, able to cover ground and block gaps that the Laker frontcourt would usually slip through to reach the rim.
The Lakers are now 4-7, beyond the halfway mark of the regular season. Three of their losses have come by a combined nine points — to section foes Litchfield, Rockford and Watertown-Mayer. The playoff push is looming, and even just knowing you can hang with teams ahead of you, in addition to having seen them twice already, can be enough of a built-in advantage to make some noise come playoff time.
“As far as the section goes, this was a tough section opponent,” Carr said. “We’ve seen them a couple times now, we’re going to continue to get better.”
“The mindset is that we need to put a full game together,” Lade said. “We either have a good first half or good second half. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it soon heading into playoffs.”
For the complete story and more Herald Journal sports coverage, check out the Feb. 26 edition of the Herald Journal. Click here for subscription information.
Follow Jared Martinson on Twitter: @JaredNHR