The top 10-ranked McCook girls got a tough test Friday, Feb. 1 at Ogallala. The host Indians played tough, but McCook squashed the upset hopes and came home with a 60-46 victory.
McCook improved to 16-3, tying the school record for most wins in a season. But the victory was far from easy, as 6-11 Ogallala gave a strong showing that drew praise from McCook head coach Jeff Ellis.
Ellis noted unintentional miscues his team committed, saying his team was very vocal in the post-game locker room that they were not making "intentional" mistakes. Ellis said he told his players he knows the mistakes are unintentional, but he also knows the Bison girls have to clean up those miscues in order for his team to "become great instead of content."
McCook used a scoring spree midway through the second period to open a 24-15 lead. Brenleigh Daum scored 10 of her game-high 16 points in the second period as the Bison girls outscored Ogallala 23-16 to claim a 35-22 halftime advantage.
Daum hit a pair of 3-point shots in the last minute of the first half, including a buzzer-beater to boost McCook to the 13-point intermission lead.
Ogallala refused to fold. The Indians cut the Bison lead to eight points on several occasions in the third quarter, and McCook led 49-39 entering the fourth quarter. Ellis watched his team maintain a double-digit cushion through most of the final period until Ogallala's Jessica Paloucek hit a 3-pointer to get her team within 54-46 with just under two minutes left.
McCook hit free throws down the stretch to help end any Ogallala comeback hopes.
THE BISON head coach agreed that his team was poised in the second half in never letting Ogallala make a serious run.
"That's where you need to credit our girls," Ellis said. "Because they've got the experience and they've got the composure to sustain stuff like that, to overcome stuff like that."
"We just have to do that more consistently," Ellis said. "Because we've already seen throughout the course of our season when we're being a little more consistent how we can produce on the floor. We just haven't been there the last couple of weeks. We'll be there again. We will. This group is too talented and too hungry to not get back to the caliber of play that we know we can play."
In addition to Daum's big night, McCook also had Madison Chitwood and Megan Ruppert score in double figures with 11 points each. Jessica Paloucek and Ciara Voycheske led Ogallala with 14 points apiece.
Coach Ellis said his team needs to understand that the highly-regarded Bison are going to get every opponent's best effort, and the McCook squad has to "quit settling for good and be great."
PERHAPS a good way to describe the Bison head coach is that he wears his emotions on his sleeve. Ellis isn't afraid to express his feelings during a game, and he will demonstrate his fire and passion for the game and for his players' effort (or lack thereof) with a loud voice and animated actions on the bench.
"I've got to understand that wins are important. But I'm never going to be the guy that settles for just winning," he said. "The girls appreciate it. Sometimes maybe they get frustrated with me coming at them the way I do sometimes. They're going to appreciate it, because the combination between me and the way I come at them and they way I approach things and their composure and leadership is going to get us where we need to be in the long run."
COACH ELLIS SAID the team didn't talk much about tying the school record for victories in a season. The Bison know there are bigger things to come this season.
"We got it, we did it (tied the record), we accomplished it," Ellis said. "We move forward. Now we can extend the record.
"We're not going to be content with tying this sucker. It needs to be ours, and it will be ours. We have to clean some things up, but every team needs to clean things up now. You clean that up to try and get to where you want to be in the long run.
"The long run for us is another district championship and a return trip to state. But we have some things to clean up. We can't worry about (districts) right now. We'll worry about the stuff we need to clean up and then turn around and clean that up on our next opponent."
NEXT UP for the McCook girls is a vital three-game series in a road trip to the Nebraska panhandle this weekend in the annual East-West Shootout.
McCook will play three games in three days, all against Class B-6 District foes, starting with the Thursday, Feb. 7 battle at Alliance (9-8). The Bison girls will then play at Scottsbluff (1-16) Friday, Feb. 8, and at Gering (9-9) Saturday, Feb. 9.
McCook and Sidney are neck-and-neck for the top seed in the B-6 District that opens Feb. 19. The Bison have a current Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) power point average of 44.2632 (fifth overall in the state's Class B ranks) and Sidney is close behind at 43.7895 (sixth in Class B).