Riceville head coach Matt Schwade admitted it just wasn't his team's night on Tuesday.
The Wildcats had just lost to Tripoli for the second time this season. While the first game was decided on a buzzer-beater, this contest, played on Riceville's home court, was determined by the Panthers jumping out to a 17-point lead midway through the second quarter before ultimately triumphing 56-41. The Wildcats cut it down to a seven-point deficit in the third quarter, but as Schwade said, it just wasn't their night.
Unfortunately for them, that's been the case every night they've played since returning from the winter break.
Entering the holidays, Riceville was in a comfortable position at 5-2 overall and were a buzzer-beater away from being 6-1. All of that has changed as Tuesday night's defeat marked the fifth consecutive loss for the Wildcats, all of which have come this month. Schwade acknowledged a shift in his team after they went on break.
"Before Christmas break we had it rolling pretty good," he said. "We had some real sloppy practices during break and our mindset is not well right now. We've become too reliant on the three-pointer and we're not executing. We need to become a better team."
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That's not to say all is lost by any means. The Wildcats were putting together an impressive season before entering 2021 and two of their five consecutive losses have come by single digits. There's plenty of reason to believe they'll turn it around and Schwade believes their defense will play a significant role in making that happen.
"Defense has been our bread and butter all year," he said. "We're really good at forcing turnovers. We're third in the state overall in steals and Theo Klaes leads the whole state of Iowa in steals. He's a pretty special player for us. That's what we thrive off of. Our defense leads to our offense."
Klaes' 63 steals do rank first overall in the state regardless of classification and he's also the second leading scorer on the team at 11.5 points per game. Klaes with Trenten Swanson (13.7 ppg), will be critical in getting Riceville back on track.
"(Klaes is the) best leader I've ever coached," said Schwade. "He's always letting the younger guys know where they need to be. He's all heart and guts."
According to Schwade, getting better moving forward will ultimately come down to a few key factors.
"Ball movement," he said. "Playing locked in, not settling for so many three-point shots and being ready to go in the second half. First half of games we've been up in almost all of them. Third quarter is where we disappear other than (Tuesday night). The third quarter was actually our best which is a pleasant sight, but we've got to put all four quarters together."
The Wildcats' next opportunity to put all four quarters together will come on Thursday against Central Springs.