ONALASKA — It took some time, but the Aquinas High School girls basketball team finally started to make some things happen.
The anxiety went away, the focus returned, and the game slowed down enough for the Blugolds to score an important 56-42 MVC victory over a flustered Onalaska team in front of nearly 1,000 people at Charles Deeth Fieldhouse on Monday.
Aquinas (7-0, 4-0) used a 15-0 run in the middle of the second half to grab control for good and pick up an impressive win over the team that could be its biggest challenge in the conference this season.
“Offensively, we didn’t do anything we wanted to do in the first half, and credit Onalaska for that,” Aquinas coach Dave Donarski said. “We were out of sync, but once we got better spacing and control of what we were doing, things changed.”
Turnovers were a problem throughout the game for Onalaska (8-2, 2-1), and the Blugolds made them pay for them dearly in the second half after the teams played to a 20-20 tie after the first half.
Aquinas sophomore Lexi Donarski and senior Kyah Steiner started to get open shots, and that hurt the Hilltoppers, who never seemed to get into a rhythm with the ball.
Donarski had 13 of her game-high 15 points in the second half, and Steiner had seven of her 10 after the break. Madessa Collins, who had 14 points, kept Aquinas in the game early and was a consistent factor defensively throughout.
Steiner also spent half of her time guarding Onalaska’s Emma Gamoke. She blocked a couple of Gamoke’s shots early to build confidence in that challenge.
“She does so many things well, and you just try to stop whatever you can,” Steiner said of Gamoke. “She can shoot the 3, she can get to the basket, and she can do just about everything.”
Gamoke ended up with a team-high 13 points, but shooting was an issue all night for Onalaska. The Hilltoppers shot 26.9 percent (7-for-26) in the first half and 31.1 percent (14-for-45) in the game. They also had 13 turnovers in the second half and 20 in the game.
The game-turning stretch followed a Kay Dale basket that got the Hilltoppers within 28-24 with 11 minutes, 31 seconds remaining. By the time Lexi Donarski converted a drive to the basket with 7:41 left, the Blugolds had a 43-24 advantage.
Nine of those 15 points followed Onalaska turnovers as Aquinas — which extended winning streaks to 39 (regular season) and 27 (conference) games — pulled away.
Onalaska hung around in the first half by denying the Blugolds good shots. The Hilltoppers led a couple of times early and had a 7-0 run that was capped with an Olivia Gamoke basket that gave Onalaska a 13-9 lead with 5:59 left in the first half. The Blugolds responded with seven straight points to get back in it.