Wildcats overpower the Titans

Millard West blows out Papio South in a Top 10 battle


Photo by Hailey Sieler

Senior James Conway going up for a tough shot in the paint against Papillion La Vista South. Conway finished the night with 10 points and nine rebounds. “We were able to play at our pace for the majority of the game,” Conway said. “We kept the lead by staying cool and relaxed.”

Jonathan Willis, Striv Executive Producer

On Tuesday, January 19, the varsity boys basketball team battled against Papillion-La Vista South. The matchup consisted of two teams currently ranked in the Top 10 in Class A; Millard West going in ranked tenth and Papio South ranked eighth.  

Millard West came into the game with a 8-3 record, after losing a surprising game to Omaha North 64-58. However, after a win against Grand Island, the Wildcats were looking to continue their win streak against a formidable opponent in Papio South. The Titans were 7-5 headed into the matchup, ranked eighth in Class A, with four of their five losses coming against top five teams. 

We told the guys that we probably let one slip away at Omaha North,” head coach William Morrison said. “Our focus was to ‘get one back’ last weekend. I didn’t think we played poorly, they just shot very well and we didn’t.”

The first quarter was high flying with a lot of offense. Millard West emphasized being sound on offense after the tough loss to Omaha North. After junior Daniel Brocaille got two free foul shots and possession for the Titans at the beginning of the game, both teams started out hot. Seniors James Conway and Ryan Larsen got going in the first quarter with Larsen knocking down three’s like usual and Conway being strong in the paint. On the other end, senior Danair Dempsey made some nice jump shots and had four blocks in the first quarter to help his team. Dempsey ended up finishing with seven total blocks. No one seemed to have the advantage with Millard West only having a 19-15 lead at the end of the first, headed into the second. 

“Dempsey is so good at catching the ball at the top of the key and driving by you or shooting the jumper, so we needed to help guard him,” junior Trace Thaden said. “That’s hard to do because of the shooters they have on their team. We just needed to put pressure on him and make him make tough shots and then box him out.”

The second quarter was Millard West’s most dominant quarter. They controlled the pace on defense, only allowing the usual high scoring offense of Papio South to score seven total points. Larsen continued to hit shots from beyond the arc, helping lead his team to a 12 point halftime lead. Throughout the first half, there weren’t a lot of timeouts or fouls which led to a very quick first 16 minutes. Millard West led 34-22 going into the break, making it extremely difficult for the Titans to try and get back in the game. 

“The reason the offense played so well was because everyone knew their role and played their type of game,” Conway said. “The main focus on defense was not letting their big men drive and get easy buckets while still getting out on the shooters and not letting them get a lot of threes off.”

Every time Papio South started to make a run in the third quarter, Millard West would be right behind with an answer. Seniors Dominic Humm and Evan Meyersick got more involved in the offense in the third quarter. Meyersick made some tough shots in the paint with the dangerous Dempsey guarding him, while Humm made some big time jump shots and layups, one of which was a stepback jumper that left a defender on the floor. Senior Josiah Beckenhauer for the Titans made some threes to keep the game somewhat close. Both teams scored 14 in the third, keeping the 12 point 48-36 lead for the Wildcats headed into the fourth. 

“We knew going in they were going to make shots and hit threes,” Thaden said. “So it wasn’t a surprise, we just had to keep doing our thing and playing the best defense we can then go get buckets on the other end.”

Millard West slowed the game down in the fourth quarter, which limited the amount of possessions Papio South was able to have. Since there is no shot clock in Nebraska High School basketball, the Wildcats were able to pass and dribble as long as they wanted until a Titan defender forced a turnover or fouled. We saw a lot of shots from the free throw line due to the large Wildcat lead with both senior Dustin Hatch and Meyersick sinking most of the shots from the charity stripe. The Wildcats went a total of 15/16 from the line. Senior Jack McKittrick made a couple of threes for the Titans, but it was too little too late. Millard West ended up winning by a score of 65-48. 

We talked about paying attention to ‘time and score’,” Morrison said. “When they started trapping, we kind of naturally got into our delay game. We actually talked to them in a time out to keep attacking but to make sure we take really good shots.  We always stress free throws.”

The Wildcats now move on to a 9-3 record and will undoubtedly be moving up in the rankings. Larsen led the team in scoring with 17 points, Meyersick had 14, and both Humm and Conway added 10 more. For the Titans, Dempsey led the team in scoring with 17 points as well, and Brocaille added 11 more. 

This is a big win for the Wildcats at this point in the season. The closer we get to March, the more Millard West needs these Top 10 wins for wildcard points and for confidence with Districts coming up. Millard West will have the opportunity to prove themselves even more with some tough games against Millard South, Westside and Millard North coming up on the schedule. 

“I told the guys that the thing I liked the most is that they walked off the floor like they the win was no big deal,” Morrison said. “We have to stay focused, win the games we are supposed to and look for another ‘upset’ somewhere. The last two games proved that we belong in the Top 10.  If we keep playing defense like this, we will have a good chance in the postseason.” 

Millard West will host Millard South in the Hoops for Hope game on January 29. The game can be found on Striv TV starting at 7:15 p.m.