BRILLION – A run to the final four is usually spurred by a strong finish to the regular season. Brillion, bucked that trend this season. The Lions actually lost their final three games of the regular season but an improved performance on the defensive end of the floor has them among the final four teams in Division 4.
Head Coach Pete Kittel said off the ball defense is where his team has really started to shine. "In the tournament time we've done a better job being in position to help and playing better team defense which has been a big key for us the last four games," Kittel.
Senior forward Zach Jensen thinks the improved D is a sign of something bigger. "I think we're just starting to come together more as a team and we're playing better defense because of it."
They'll need that better defense against the defending state champions from Dominican who’s led by 6-10 240 pound center Diamond Stone, one of the top ranked juniors in the nation.
"He's extremely talented and you look for ways to minimize his impact but he's a phenomenal player and it's going to take a great team effort on our part," Kittel said.
The players are aware of Stone and Dominican’s reputation but aren't dwelling on it.
"It's just another basketball game. We can't let it get to our heads," Jensen said. Teammate Tyler Lemke is looking on the bright side. "You always want to play against the best and challenge yourself. This is a perfect opportunity to show everybody what you've got," Lemke
This is the third time in the past five seasons that the Lions of Brillion have gone to Madison to play in the state tournament including winning a state title in 2012. So they know the expectations that come with playing on that Kohl Center floor.
"Only good ones are left so you're in that mix,” Coach Kittel said. “So you've got to believe that and believe you can compete at that level and just go play each possession individually and see how it turns out."
Tyler Lemke emphatically stated, "We're not a fluke. We knew we could be here all year long. We're just proving to everybody else what we already knew."
The Lions also know to earn gold; they'll need to pass up diamond first.