To be perfectly honest, Franklin girls basketball coach Tony Kathrens is sick and tired of his rivals from Oak Creek, and he is desperately looking for a formula to slow down the four-time Southeast Conference champion Knights.
Kathrens wore an air of resignation again Jan. 27, as the Knights took a major step toward a fifth straight crown with a thorough and complete 58-25 takedown of the Sabers.
It was the 10th straight victory for Oak Creek over rival Franklin over the last four seasons and put the Knights (10-0 in league, 14-3 overall) two games up in the current Southeast standings.
Kathrens didn't see the streak ending anytime soon, because just as he was about to launch into a statement about how Franklin could improve this or that aspect of its game, he got to the stone cold reality of the matter.
"It was the shooting; their shooting was sublime," he said. "We play a lot of teams that screen like they do, but no one we've played hit shots like that. It was sublime. And their defense. They know how to switch on everybody and they anticipate (the passes) so well. It's simple, right now, this is a program that needs to get its due at the state level. We need to talk about Oak creek in the same terms as Middleton, Kimberly and Arrowhead.
"Yes, they graduated a large number of seniors, but this is no rebuilding year for them. They have a talented sophomore class, they have talented 3-point shooters. They're just an exceptional basketball team."
That had an exceptional night.
At the forefront of the effort was junior point guard Haley Zylka. She ran an efficient attack that saw Oak Creek register 23 assists on 24 baskets as the ball artfully zipped around the perimeter and into the lane to find the open player. Zylka had nine assists, but more remarkably, a total of 10 Knights registered at least one assist apiece.
"Every day, we work on our fundamentals," said Zylka. "My goal is to involve the team in everything I do. It's just more fun that way."
Graduation took seven seniors from the Knights' WIAA state-qualifying unit of a year ago, including almost all of its height, but no matter, said Zylka, as the Knights became a team of 3-point shooters, screeners and cutters.
"We had to adjust," said Zylka, "but it just gave us new opportunities to do great things."
Knights coach Steve Hluchnik feels like this squad is on the verge of great things. It was their eighth-straight win this season, the last seven of which have all been by a minimum of 17 points. He feels the team has progressed far since a late December debacle at home against Brookfield East, Oak Creek's last defeat.
Like Zylka said, it all comes down to basics.
"We definitely spend time on the fundamentals," said Hluchnik. "Especially on defense. We try to beat the cutters (to a particular spot) and jump the ball (in the passing lanes). The kids are definitely figuring it out. Add that onto our athleticism, and we should be able to play defense."
But seldom like what was seen Jan. 27, and against an opponent of some quality like Franklin (8-2, 11-6).
An early 8-0 run by the Knights gave them a 10-2 lead, and then matters really got difficult for the Sabers as they hit just one of their first 11 shots from the field. Oak Creek forced 11 Franklin turnovers in the first half as the lead went from 10-2 to 17-4 to 26-6. Franklin didn't break double digits in the first half until the 1:31 mark, at which time it was 31-10. The score was 35-14 at the break, and the margin never dropped below 23 in the second half. Senior forward Megan Lee gave it her all for Franklin with 16 points, but no one else had more than 3.
Forward Lea Finn led the Knights with 15 points, while Maddie Gard came off the bench for 14. Eight different players scored.
Hluchnik agreed with Kathrens that the offensive execution was excellent.
"We really worked the ball well," he said, "and we shot as well as we have all season. We just moved the ball so well and saw the floor so well. They tried a lot of different defenses on us: a triangle and two, a 3-2 and a 1-1-3, but the kids handled them all."
It's all part of what Kathrens said about Oak Creek. The program needs to gain more respect.
"We're looking at the big picture," said Hluchnik. "The first goal is to win conference. Then see if we can win them all. We've got a nice little streak going."
His point guard was seeing the big picture perfectly well.
"Every game counts on the road to state,"said Zylka. "This is a great, great feeling."