ONALASKA — The main word that Onalaska High School boys basketball coach Craig Kowal preached during the full week of practice the Hilltoppers had following a disappointing overtime loss to Deforest last week was consistency.
After squandering a 17-point second-half lead to the Norskies before falling in overtime, Kowal wanted to see a much more complete game that eluded Onalaska a week ago.
The Hilltoppers were able to do that and then some, jumping out to a 10-0 lead to start the game and cruised to an 83-40 nonconference win over West Salem in front of approximately 1,200 fans in the Charles Deeth Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
“We had them beat,” Onalaska senior Noah Skifton said of the Dec. 5 game against Deforest. “This week, we worked really hard on maintaining our runs, so being able to go on runs and play good defense. I think that if we can play good defense, we’re going to work the ball around, and we’ll be able to take that (17-point) lead to a 25-point lead.”
The Hilltoppers (2-1) got 18 points each from sophomores Carson Arenz and Tyrell Stuttley, as Onalaska hit 11 3-pointers, including eight before halftime.
“That’s how we have to play,” Kowal said of Onalaska’s ball movement to get good looks from distance. “We have a lot of really skilled kids and when we get the ball moving and make the extra pass, we have a chance to knock down a bunch. We really got the ball moving well tonight.”
Skifton, a University of Minnesota-Duluth football commit, added two 3-pointers and 12 points for the Hilltoppers.
“We work on that a lot in our offense,” Skifton said of the perimeter passing. “Just getting the guys where they need to be, in the right spots, and then just working the ball around and passing it to get good, wide-open shots.”
Arenz led Onalaska with four three-pointers, while freshman Sam Kick had nine points on three 3-pointers, and 6-foot-8 freshman Gavin McGrath added eight points in the paint.
“That’s big, especially early on,” Skifton said of the young players’ scoring contributions. “I know they’re going to have a lot of big games coming up that they might not be ready for, but they’re impressing. They’ve been playing great.”
Kowal also noted the importance of the younger Hilltoppers players stepping up.
“We expect some peaks and valleys with a lot of young guys playing significant minutes, but I thought we took a step forward in practice after the loss,” Kowal said. “I thought we converted it into the game tonight.”
Onalaska opens the MVC season Friday night at Holmen.
“We’re trying to go 2-0,” Skifton said of the Hilltoppers’ rivalry week. “Holmen has some nice players. I think if we can come out, work the ball and play defense, we’ll be able to take it to them.”
The Panthers (1-3) were led by 11 points from senior Hunter Wakefield.