MADISON — West Salem High School senior Brett McConkey put the basketball in his right hand and started what he hoped was an ascent to the hoop during Thursday’s WIAA Division 3 semifinal against the Milwaukee Academy of Science at the Kohl Center.
He was trying to take advantage of an opportunity to create one of those moments — throwing down a breakaway dunk — that he could talk about for the rest of his life.
But Amare Jackson and and one of his teammates weren’t having it and combined to both foul McConkey and sway the ball away before he could reach the rim.
“I was gonna try (for the dunk),” McConkey said with a smile after the top-seeded Panthers (28-1) beat the Novas 79-51 to qualify for Saturday afternoon’s championship game against second-seeded Brillion (28-1). “I think I had a pretty good chance.”
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That was about the only thing that went wrong for McConkey during a huge semifinal that included 18 points and 14 rebounds. McConkey made 7 of 12 shots, all three of his free throws and pulled down half of his rebounds on the offensive end. That helped the Panthers to a 30-15 advantage on second-chance points.
All of this, of course, is just what teammates and coaches have come to expect from a kid happy to take care of the dirty work — that also included guarding 6-foot-7 sophomore Devin Brown.
Brown finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but McConkey seemed to make him rush at times. Brown made 8 of 22 shots and had four turnovers.
“We knew he was going to be really tough,” McConkey said of Brown. “Being assigned to him, I took that to heart. It was my responsibility to help the team out there.”
He’ll now try to help it get over the hump in championship games.
West Salem was Division 3 state runner-up last season, and McConkey had four points and 13 rebounds in a 67-56 loss to Lake Country Lutheran.
He then helped the Panthers to the Division 3 championship game in football, but Monroe beat them 35-14. McConkey passed for 126 yards and a touchdown and forced two fumbles while making 15 tackles that day at Camp Randall Stadium.
His double-double played a big role in a dominant performance Thursday, and he’s ready to unleash another big performance Saturday.
“This is the third one in the past two years,” said McConkey, whose twin sister Anna helped the Panthers qualify for state in girls basketball last week, said. “It feels really good, but it would be awesome to bring home a gold ball.”
NEW EXPERIENCE WITH BRILLION: West Salem coach Mark Wagner felt more comfortable with more time to prepare for Brillion last year.
The Panthers beat the Lions 71-61 in the 2022 Division 3 semifinal round, but facing them with the championship on the line Saturday is a different situation.
“They are really, really hard to get ready for in a day,” Wagner said Friday after his team held a one-hour practice at Madison College. “There are so many different sets and plays and out-of-bounds plays.
“I was a lot more comfortable when we had (almost) a week to prepare for them last year.”
Wagner said he let his players have Friday morning to themselves before the scheduled practice. A quick meal followed as the team traveled back to the Kohl Center to watch Central play Whitnall.
Wagner said he scheduled a team meal for Friday night as they prepared for the biggest game of the season.
Brillion was led in Thursday’s 57-55 semifinal win over Lakeside Lutheran by 6-foot-8 senior Jeremy Lorenz, who scored 25 points and had 10 rebounds. He had 22 points and 14 rebounds in last season’s game against the Panthers.
Carson Koepnick scored 26 points, and McConkey (14 points, 14 rebounds) and Peter Lattos (10 points, 12 rebounds) had double-doubles that day.
KENNEDY QUESTIONABLE ... AT BEST: West Salem senior Brennan Kennedy’s playing time has been very limited since a high ankle sprain sidelined him very late in the regular season.
Kennedy, who averages 7.0 points and has made 35 3-pointers in 99 attempts this season, kept his walking boot on when working with WIAA producers on staging the starting lineups before Thursday’s semifinal, then returned to the court with the ankle heavily taped.
Kennedy started against MAS and knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner on the first possession, but contact from a drive through the lane less than seven minutes into the game sent Kennedy to the floor and aggravated the injury.
He wasn’t able to play again Thursday, and his status didn’t look good for Saturday after he sat out of Friday’s practice at Madison College.
“He didn’t practice, so we’ll see (Saturday),” Wagner said. “We kept him off (the ankle) and in the boot, but ... we’ll see.”
Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX
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