Milwaukee King basketball coach Jim Gosz has won four state titles and is a prideful man, but he knows a really good team when he sees one and he saw one Friday night in the Generals' WIAA D1 state semifinal with Germantown.
Showing much of the swagger that had made them a dominant forced in earning the last two state titles, the Warhawks trailed only once and got dominant performances from post Evan Wesenberg and point guard Lamnote' Bearden in routing the Generals, 77-60.
With the win, the Warhawks will play for their third straight state crown at 8:15 p.m. Saturday against the winner of Neenah and Mukwonago.
"I knew Germantown was a really good team going in," said Gosz, "but I didn't tell my guys that. Did I think they were this good? Yes."
"...They rank right up there (with the best in state history). Those three they bring off the bench are as good as any they have on the court. People want to bash Germantown (for the drug arrests and subsequent suspensions that resulted from them two months ago), but they're the real deal."
Still, even Germantown coach Steve Showalter did not see this coming. This game had been billed as a heavyweight championship fight, and it was a knockout for the Warhawks all the way, as the only time they trailed was 3-0 and at one point in the fourth quarter, they had a 27-point lead.
"I expected a war, a battle to the end," Showalter said, "...but to do this to King is just an amazing thing to me."
Germantown (25-2) took control for good with a 9-0 run towards the end of the first quarter as it became clear that the Generals (24-3) could not stay in front of the lightning-quick Bearden nor could they stop the 6-7 Wesenberg, who hit all five of his first half shots and had 10 points.
It was 19-11 heading into the second quarter.
"Our goal was to establish the inside guys and once Evan got hot we went early and often to him," said Showalter. Wesenberg would finish with 25 points on 11 of 13 shooting.
"I was trying to get buckets any way I could," said Wesenberg. "Jon (Averkamp) got me going with an early high-low and that was a big boost to my confidence."
He benefitted a great deal froom Bearden's creativity as King could not keep up with him. He had three of Germantown's 18 team assists (on 30 made buckets) and finished with 17 points, two blocked shots and three steals.
"I just try to play off what the defense is giving me," said Bearden. "If Jake (Showalter) is open I'll go to him or if Evan (Wesenberg) I'll go to him. I just don't try to rush things."
The Warhawks looked anything but rushed all night, playing the John Wooden axiom "Be quick, but don't hurry" to a perfect "T".
They looked inside to Wesenberg, fought hard on the boards (winning by a 37-23 margin) and ran their trademark fastbreaks whenever the opportunity presented itself.
King had the margin at 29-21 late in the second quarter, but then Bearden hit a lay-up, drained two free throws and fed Averkamp for an easy bucket to make it 35-21. It was 35-23 at the break.
"We just didn't play very well at times," said Gosz. "Our (defensive) rotations were not where we wanted them to be, but we had our chances early."
Coach Showalter wanted to limit those opportunities.
"King teams don't change a lot from year-to-year, so we had a pretty good idea of what they were going to do," said Showalter. "Let's say our preparation paid off. I'll tell you one thing though, it's a big difference when you have a full week to prepare for King as opposed to 24 hours (such as when the Warhawks beat the Generals for the state title in 2012)."
The margin never dropped below double digits in the second half and reached 51-32 on a Wesenberg bucket at the 3:29 mark of the third. When Jake Showalter, who had struggled mightily in the first half, hit three, 3-pointers in the final minute of the third quarter, it was all but over as Germantown led 63-41 going into the fourth.
"I looked up at the end of the third quarter and I thought it was over," said Gosz. "That's just a credit to them (the Warhawks)."
Weesnberg's last basket made it 74-47 with 4:54 left, the largest margin of the night. The subs took over after that point.
Weesnberg added six rebounds to his total while Jake Showalter finished with 13 points and four assists. Averkamp led the rebounders with eight, while back-up point guard Juwan McCloud had five assists. King was led by Chris Howell with 17 points.
Now the Warhawks have a chance at history, to become the rare team that wins three state titles in a row. The players say they're ready.
"We should play hard no matter what," said Bearden. "They'll be no letdowns."
"We will play our best," added Wesenberg.
As reassured by those thoughts as coach Showalter is, he's not about to put the cart before the horse just yet. He knows this team has come a long ways from the dark days of the bad publicity surrounding the suspensions and he's not going to stop working until the final task is done.
"It means another night of tossing and turning trying to think of a way to beat another really good team," he said, "but I'd rather be in that position than any other.
"We've grown as people and come together as a team, but the things we're accomplishing right now are pretty special."
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