Packer boys are ready for rematch with HuskiesPublished 10:13pm Wednesday, February 29, 2012
The Packers are on the brink of doing something that not a lot of Austin teams have done in the past few years — winning a Big Nine title, and beating Owatonna to do it.
While Austin already claimed its first share of the boys basketball conference crown since 1999, it’ll have to beat the Huskies Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Packer Gym to win the title outright.
“It’s a big deal, there’s no question about it,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “We want to win it outright and we feel like we’re good enough to get it done. Winning a conference is a statement on your season as a whole. In the tournament you can have one bad night, but to win a conference speaks to a body of work and it’s not just a one night thing.”
The Packers, who are ranked No. 5 in Class ‘AAA’, have filled Packer Gym all season and they’ve won all 10 of their home games this season. But even they may not be ready for what awaits them on Friday night. Between Owatonna fans who make the trip and Austin students who are expected to pack the gym, there may be an overflow of fans.
Many of those fans will be dressed to make a statement as Austin senior guard Nate Schwab said the team has already put out sixth man t-shirts.
“It’s a big game for us,” Schwab said. “I hear a lot of people are going and we made sixth man shirts in marketing class for this game and the postseason. It’ll be cool because they look like our jerseys.”
Austin (19-5 overall, 15-2 Big Nine) still has a bad taste in its mouth for how it lost to Owatonna (20-5 overall, 14-3 Big Nine) in the teams’ first meeting, which the Huskies won 39-34.
Austin led that game by seven with just under 10 minutes to go, but it couldn’t find enough offense down the stretch in a very physical contest and although Owatonna recently lost to a John Marshall team that Austin throttled last week, there is no way the Packers are going to be overconfident in this one.
“We feel like we kind of got jipped last game and we’d really like to beat them,” said Austin junior forward Tom Aase. “We overlooked Mayo earlier in this year and that’s what put us in this situation. If we would’ve taken care of that one, we would’ve already sealed the deal.”
Aase will be crucial to the Packers’ success in Friday’s matchup. He had just three points against the Huskies in the first meeting, but he’s been on a hot streak in his last six games. He’s scored at least 13 points in every contest and is averaging 16.3 points per game over that stretch.
Aase has also been playing a lot more physical inside and that will be key against an Owatonna team that brings a lot of muscle.
“We’ve got to be physical and get in the paint,” Aase said. “I’ve been a lot more physical, I feel a lot healthier and I’ve been playing a lot better.”
Fadness has also noticed the improvement in Aase’s play inside.
“Tom’s playing better right now and that’s the bottom line,” Fadness said. “He’s just playing better basketball and he wasn’t playing as good then as he is right now.”
Fadness also expects the game to be to be much more wide open Friday than it was in the first meeting.
“I don’t think the game will be in the 30s this time around. I think we’ll run a little more and play at a faster pace,” he said.
While Fadness would prefer for Austin to win by a sizable margin, Friday’s game may give the Packers a rare chance to play in a close game. So far this season, just three of Austin’s games were decided by three points or less.
Fadness thinks the Packers would hold up fine in a tight contest.
“We’ll worry about it when it comes and it’s not like we haven’t practiced end of game situations,” Fadness said. “I feel like we’ll be ready. We have some depth on our team, our practices are pretty solid and they do push each other. There’s no excuses if it comes to that.”
While a Big Nine title would be huge, beating Owatonna means a little extra for Austin. The Packer dance team recently won Big Nine title, but Owatonna doesn’t have a dance team. In all, it’s rare for Austin teams to finish ahead of Owatonna in the conference chase.
“They beat us in football and almost every other sport. It would be absolutely huge (to finish ahead of them) for this sport,” Aase said. “We’re having really good practices this week and we’ll be ready for them.”
If Austin falls to Owatonna and Mankato East beats Rochester Century on Friday, the Cougars, Packers and Huskies will finish in a three-way tie at the top of the Big Nine.
The Packers will open the Section 1AAA tournament at home next Wednesday at 7 p.m.