If the Muskego boys basketball team wants to win its third straight Classic 8 Conference championship, it first had to take care its own business.
With the margin of error to stay in the race razor thin, the Warriors could ill afford a slip up against Mukwonago or Catholic Memorial. The Warriors handled Mukwonago, 62-55, on Jan. 31, but then fell, 74-68, to CMH on Feb. 3, leaving their league title hopes hanging by a thread.
The loss dropped Muskego into a second-place tie with CMH at 7-3. Both teams trail first place Arrowhead by three games with four conference games remaining.
Facing a Mukwonago team that is responsible for one of Muskego's three losses on the season, the Warriors exacted revenge, holding the Indians to 26 fewer points than they did in the first meeting.
It didn't take Muskego coach Andy Capes long to come up with an answer to why his team performed better defensively this time around.
"Ben Schaefer," Capes said. "Last game (against Mukwonago), he got in foul trouble right away and barely got to play. He's a terrific defender. I thought we did a really good job helping him keep the ball out of Hau's hand. If you can take him out of it, you give yourself a shot."
Schaefer was tasked with guarding Indians senior forward Brandon Hau, who torched Muskego for 32 points in Mukwonago's 81-73 win on Dec. 13.
He wasn't alone in guarding the IUPUI commit, as the Warriors dug down when Hau caught the ball on the block. Sometimes triple-teamed, Hau found teammates on the perimeter, but Mukwonago shot just 16-for-55 (29.1 percent) from the field and went 6-for-28 (21.4 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.
"We didn't make a lot of shots," Mukwonago coach Jim Haasser said. "Muskego is a good basketball team. They played us a certain way. They were attacking the gaps and crowding the post players. The plan was to play exactly the way we played. I didn't envision us missing that many shots. To our guys' credit, they kept battling. We finally hit a few shots at the end to make it a little bit interesting."
With Muskego leading 28-22 at halftime, Mukwonago opened the second half on a 7-2 run to pull to within 29-28. Ryan Wikel and Stu Vent hit jumpers to push the lead back to 5, and after Zach Genrich hit a 3-pointer for the Indians, AJ Makinen split a pair of free throws, Will Herald scored inside and Makinen hit a jumper to put the Warriors up 39-32.
Connor Tess then hit a triple for Mukwonago, but Vent immediately answered with one of his own.
The Indians wouldn't get within 7 points until Gabe Cizauskas knocked down a 3-pointer to make it 54-48 with 2:22 left. Muskego turned the ball over on its next possession, but Cizauskas then missed a 3-point try, and Luke Horozewski powered home a layup to all but put the game away for the Warriors.
Muskego limited Hau to 11 points on 1-of-7 shooting, his third-lowest scoring output of the season. He did add 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double. Bryce Konitzer led Mukwonago with 12 points, and Alex Gehl had 10 points.
"We made sure that when Hau got the ball, Ben (Schaefer) had help from whoever the guard was up top," Herald said. "That was the main difference."
After being outrebounded by 14 in the first meeting, the Warriors won the battle on the glass, 41-30, and pulled down 13 offensive rebounds.
Herald led Muskego with 16 points off the bench. Makinen finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists, Vent had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Horozewski added 9 points and five rebounds.
But Muskego's most valuable player against the Warriors scored just 3 points. When Schaefer picked up his fourth foul with 5:38 left, Hau had just 7 points. He then scored 4 points in the first 1 minute, 14 seconds Schaefer was on the bench.
"He's just tough," Capes said of Schaefer. "He's a tough-nosed kid. He never backs down, and he's always in the right position. He's a smart defender."
Warriors fall to CMH
It was CMH finding revenge for an earlier loss on Feb. 3, as the Crusaders downed the Warriors after losing by 20 points to Muskego on Dec. 16.
Makinen hit five 3-pointers and finished with 29 points to lead Muskego. Herald added 17 points, Schaefer scored 10 points and Horozewski chipped in with seven points.
The Warriors were scheduled to host Kettle Moraine (8-10, 5-5 Classic 8) on Feb. 7 before traveling to Waukesha South to face the Blackshirts (3-14, 1-9) at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10.