The West High boys basketball team entered 2014 exactly where they’d spent the previous two years: on top of the Iowa high school basketball world.
Winners of two straight state titles, West High brought a Class 4A record long winning streak and a No. 1 ranking into the new year.
The Trojans were 8-0 and had won their games by an average of better than 32 points per game when they traveled to then No. 3 Dubuque Senior on Jan. 10.
The much anticipated showdown with Senior turned into a humbling 20-point defeat and put the Trojans in a situation they hadn’t encountered in three seasons, bouncing back from a loss.
“I told them before that we had deficiencies and I’m not sure it was sinking through when we were winning every game by 25 or 30 points,” West High coach Steve Bergman said. “It was like a slap in the face what happened up there and it certainly got their attention.”
Coming off its first loss in three seasons, West High didn’t have any time to sulk.
Less than 24 hours later, the Trojans traveled to Wisconsin Dells and came from behind to down Sun Prairie Wisconsin 63-48.
The loss to Senior was the first game in a four-game stretch that featured three games away from home, including two trips to Wisconsin in nine days.
West finished the stretch 2-2, defeating MVC foe Cedar Rapids Jefferson at home between the win over Sun Prairie and a 60-54 overtime loss to two-time Minnesota state champion Minneapolis DeLaSalle at the Midwest Players Classic in LaCrosse, Wis.
“We found out a lot about ourselves; we found that we weren’t ready to handle a hostile environment yet like we did at Senior and we found out that our defense wasn’t quite where it needed to be and we have to work on our late-game situations,” Bergman said.
“When you are winning by 35 or 40 points, you aren’t finding those things out, and I’m glad that we found it out and we found it out when we still have plenty of time to keep working on those things.”
West has won three straight MVC games since the loss to DeLaSalle, downing Waterloo East, No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Cedar Rapids Prairie by an average of better than 35 points per game.
In its last three wins, West is shooting 65 percent from the field while holding opponents to an average of 43 points per game.
“We identified that we had to play better defense, we had to rebound better, and then we just had to handle adversity better,” Bergman said. “The handling adversity is a little hard to judge, but the things that you can put numbers on we have improved.”
* STILL COOKING: Teams are still searching for answers on how to slow Regina junior Drew Cook.
Cook continued his strong season last week, averaging 32.7 points and nine rebounds in three games.
The 6-foot-5 forward had 38 points and nine rebounds against Wilton and notched 33 points and 11 rebounds against North Cedar.
Cook is averaging 25.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game on the season.
* SOLON: Long-time Solon coach Brad Randall returned to the bench last week after missing six games while being investigated by the school district.
Randall announced last week that he will retire from coaching at the end of this season.
In 21 years leading the Spartans, Randall is 360-112 and has led Solon to four state tournament appearances and one state championship.
* POSTSEAON PAIRINGS: The Iowa High School Athletic Association will release postseason pairings for Classes 1A and 2A on Wednesday while brackets for Classes 3A and 4A will be released next week.
Teams in each district will be seeded based on results in regular season games five through 15.
District play beings in Classes 1A and 2A on Feb. 17 and continues on Feb. 20.
* A LOOK AHEAD: A couple of long-time rivals will meet in a pair of key conference matchups.
Solon and Mount Vernon will hook up Tuesday as the Spartans head up Highway 1 to Mount Vernon for a WaMaC showdown.
On Saturday, West Branch gets a rematch against Regina, who defeated the Bears 60-41 in West Branch back on Jan. 10.
City High faces a challenging week that starts with back-to-back MVC road trips and ends with a visit from the eighth-ranked team in Class 5A.
The Little Hawks play at Cedar Rapids Prairie on Tuesday and travel to Dubuque Hempstead before returning home to face No. 8 Ankeny Centennial on Saturday.
* PERFORMANCES OF THE WEEK: Regina sophomore Nathan Stenger had 22 points and nine rebounds in a 71-61 win over North Cedar.
West High senior Wyatt Lohaus had 27 points, five rebounds and four assists in a 68-51 win over No. 9 Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
City High senior Luke Posivio had 18 points in an 87-66 win over Waterloo East.
Lone Tree freshman Jovonte Squiers had 10 points, including the game-winning free throws with two seconds left in a 49-48 win over Winfield-Mount Union.