Tommy Leininger led Class B No. 6-rated Aurora’s rare quick start against Northwest Thursday.
The junior guard scored nine of his game-high 13 points in the first quarter to help the Huskies never trail in a 46-33 Central Conference tournament semifinal victory at Northwest High School.
Aurora coach Tom Leininger was certainly happy to see his team get out of the gates quickly for once.
“We talked about it because we’ve started out behind in almost every game all year,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure that we did anything different. Maybe they were just more aware of an early start.
“But we were going to call some specials early and we didn’t. So we kind of did what we normally do. It just worked earlier tonight than it usually does.”
After an Austin Allen basket, Leininger scored the next two to give the Huskies (16-1) a 6-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.
That wasn’t the type of start that Northwest coach Ryan Rathke wanted to see.
“You want to get out and get a bucket early,” he said. “Then all of a sudden it was 6-0 with their transition game. You don’t want to dig a hole. You for sure don’t want to dig a big hole. But at the start of the game we dug ourselves a hole.
“I thought we responded. We battled and battled. We kept being there right in the game. But Aurora’s an excellent team. They’re hard to defend and can hurt you in a lot of different ways.”
The Vikings (8-9) never made it a one-possession game after Aurora’s opening run, and the Huskies went up by double digits for good at the end of the second quarter.
Tom Leininger said the Huskies rebounded from a recent defensive slump with a strong outing. Northwest went 12-for-42 (28.6 percent) from the floor and 5-for-22 (22.7 percent) on 3-pointers.
“That was something we really focused on just starting this week again because we kind of went through a four-game slide where I wasn’t really happy with what we did defensively. ...I think the kids have responded to that because we just keep getting better,” he said. “I thought at times tonight we did some really good things defensively. Our double help rotate was really good at times.”
Rathke said the Vikings’ defense struggled slowing down Aurora.
“Defensively, stopping penetration was the thing that we just had a tough time doing,” he said. “We wanted to do that, but they’re good and have a number of players that can do what I call hunt the paint. They get in that paint with the basketball.
“And Aurora is just a good passing basketball team. You see it in their transition game, and you see it in their half-court game. You wonder why they score all those points throughout the basketball season? They’re a good passing team.”
Aurora’s transition success may have been the biggest difference in the game, Rathke said.
“When you face a really good basketball team, you don’t want to turn it over, but you really don’t want turnovers that end up in points,” he said. “They might have had 10 points off turnovers. They have 46 points and you take 10 of those back, now they’re in the mid-30s. That’s where we want them at the end of the game.”
Aurora’s top two scorers — Tommy Leininger and Austin Allen — combined for only four shots and six points in the second half. But the Huskies kept building their lead thanks to balanced scoring.
“We don’t really care who scores, and I think they play like that,” Tom Leininger said. “There’s times where those guys won’t get shots. I think Tommy didn’t shoot at all in the second half in the game before. They’re very unselfish, and they don’t care who scores.”
Allen and Kade Moural each finished with nine points, Henry Penner added seven and Zach Stevenson chipped in six.
Christian Ellsworth and Brook Brown each had 10 points for the Vikings, who rushed too many shots, Rathke said.
But he hopes the team learns from the loss since Aurora is a potential district opponent.
The Vikings will play Seward in the third-place game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. while Aurora will try to claim a conference championship at 6 p.m. against Crete.
“It’s just great to get back into the finals,” Tom Leininger said. “I think for Aurora it’s been 10 years. So hopefully we’ll make the best of it.”
Northwest .............................. 10 5 10 8—33
Aurora ................................... 18 8 10 10—46
NORTHWEST (8-9): Daws 2-3 0-0 5, Lierman 0-0 0-0 0, Ellsworth 4-13 0-0 10, R. Glause 2-7 0-0 5, B. Brown 3-9 4-5 10, T. Brown 0-1 0-0 0, Schliep 0-0 0-0 0, B. Glause 1-1 0-0 3, Mettenbrink 0-8 0-0 0, Bydalek 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-42 4-5 33.
AURORA (16-1): Moural 3-6 2-2 9, Stevenson 3-5 0-0 6, Allen 4-5 1-3 9, Leininger 6-11 0-0 13, Penner 3-5 0-0 7, Scheierman 0-1 0-0 0, Goertzen 0-0 0-0 0, Vinkenberg 0-1 0-0 0, Pohlmann 0-0 0-0 0, Herzberg 0-0 0-00, Wilson 1-2 0-0 2, Holliday 0-2 0-0 0, Boerkircher 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-39 3-5 46.
3-point field goals—Northwest 5-22 (Daws 1-1, T. Brown 0-1, Ellsworth 2-8, B. Glause 1-1, Mettenbrink 0-7, R. Glause 1-3, B. Brown 0-1), Aurorra 3-10 (Moural 1-3, Scheierman 0-1, Stevenson 0-1, Leininger 1-2, Penner 1-3). Fouled out—none. Rebounds—Northwest 24 (Daws 7), Aurora 28 (Vinkenberg 6). Assists—Northwest 5 (B. Brown 2), Aurora 9 (Stenvenson, Leininger 3). Turnovers—Northwest 12, Aurora 11. Total fouls—Northwest 12, Aurora 9.