Monroe eases past Monona Grove in girls basketball

February 7, 2019

MONONA — Monroe senior guard Sydney Hilliard spent much of Tuesday night playing the role of “The Shadow” on defense.

Wherever Monona Grove senior standout McKenna Warnock moved, the 6-foot Hilliard followed.

Hilliard, a University of Wisconsin commit, tightly guarded the 6-2 Warnock in Monroe’s man-to-man defense. And she limited touches to Warnock, who entered Tuesday’s Badger South Conference girls basketball game third in the state in scoring at 30.9 points per game for the second-ranked and league-leading Silver Eagles.

When Warnock did break free, Hilliard’s teammates had help responsibilities and were ready to collapse on the University of Iowa commit.

Monroe’s defense, plus its precise cutting and passing on offense, led to a 72-55 victory for the Cheesemakers, 10th in The Associated Press Division 2 rankings.

“The mindset right away in practice was just to not let her get the ball,” Hilliard said. “I face-guarded her basically the whole game. We knew that she was going to score no matter what, because she’s McKenna. But I thought we played really good defense as a team, as well, as one on one.”

Hilliard and senior guard Emily Benzschawel, who’s committed to Division II Lindenwood (Mo.) University, scored 22 points apiece for Monroe (13-5, 8-3 Badger South).

Sophomore Megan Benzschawel had 12 points and junior forward Grace Tostrud made two 3-pointers and grabbed 11 rebounds, including nine in the first half, as the second-place Cheesemakers spoiled the Silver Eagles’ Senior Night and tightened the league race.

Warnock, held about seven points below her average, still managed a game-high 24 points on 8-for-15 shooting from the field, including making three 3-pointers.

“That’s telling of how capable she is as a player,” Monona Grove coach Tyler Kuehl said.

Warnock said she’s faced such defensive attention multiple times.

“But this time, it was a little different because if I drove it was five girls, rather than just two or three,” Warnock said. “Every time I got in the post, there were two or three. It definitely made it hard to score.”

No other player for Monona Grove (16-2, 9-2) scored in double figures as the Silver Eagles saw their 15-game winning streak snapped. Monona Grove junior Seanna Curran had eight points off the bench.

“I’m really proud of the defense,” Monroe coach Sam Mathiason said. “We know that McKenna is really good and the points that she’s been scoring. You try to figure out how to make it as hard as possible. Sydney Hilliard had the primary responsibility, but I thought our team defense was just really, really good.”

Hilliard, asked what it’s like to play the shadow role, said: “It does drain you quite a bit, especially going against McKenna. She’s going to have a ton of picks set for her. I thought we played really well calling the picks and doubling her when she got into the post.”

Kuehl said Monroe’s defense was a change from the first meeting, in which Warnock had 39 points and 20 rebounds and Monona Grove won 73-64 in overtime Dec. 14.

“It definitely makes it more difficult for her to get touches,” Kuehl said. “I still thought she did a good job of fighting through some of that stuff. But I don’t think we did a great job of helping her. We actually haven’t seen this in a while. But we did see it before and talked about how to help her with screens and I don’t think we did great job of that tonight.”

Kuehl also said his team didn’t play with sufficient defensive intensity.

The Cheesemakers scored the last eight points of the first half and took a 35-25 lead into halftime before pulling away in the second half.

Monroe has won its past three games, defeating Watertown, Stoughton and Monona Grove.

“I thought the last three games we have improved offensively as well as defensively,” Hilliard said. “I’m really proud of how we played tonight.”

Said Sam Mathiason: “I think we are building at the right time.”

Monroe 35 37 — 72

Monona Grove 25 30 — 55

MONROE — M. Benzschawel 5 2-3 12, Towne 2 0-0 5, Nesbitt 0 0-0 0, G. Mathiason 2 0-0 5, Updike 0 0-0 0, Conway 0 0-0 0, E. Benzschawel 9 2-2 22, Hilliard 9 4-5 22, Tostrud 2 0-0 6, Bunker 0 0-0 0. Totals 29 8-10 72.

MONONA GROVE — Johnson 1 0-0 3, Nelson 0 1-2 1, Blang 2 0-1 4, Christiansen 2 3-3 7, Gorton 1 0-0 3, Warnock 8 5-5 24, Kellogg 1 2-4 5, Bruns 0 0-0 0, Curran 3 0-0 8. Totals 18 11-15 55.

3-point goals — Mo 6 (E. Benzschawel 2, Tostrud 2, Towne 1, G. Mathiason 1); MG 8 (Warnock 3, Curran 2, Johnson 1, Gorton 1, Kellogg 1). Total fouls — Mo 13; MG 11.

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