The second-ranked team in Iowa’s biggest class, Waukee, stormed the Thunderdome on Tuesday night and raced out to a 25-12 lead after one quarter.
Bellevue West, the top-ranked team in Nebraska, took Waukee’s early punch on the chin and then fired back, dominating the second half en route to a 74-60 win.
Here are five thought on the Thunderbird win.
Fidler Finishes Strong
Frankie Fidler, the 6-foot-6 Omaha signee, had a quiet first half. He made just one field goal, a pull-up jumper just before the first-quarter buzzer, and scored just five points in the first 16 minutes.
Fidler got going a bit inside the arc in the third quarter, but he continued to fire up blanks from the perimeter, missing all five of his 3-point attempts in the first three periods. As soon as the fourth began, however, Fidler kicked it up another couple of notches.
The Bellevue West senior outscored Waukee by himself and did it without missing a shot. He scored 13 of his game-high 26 in the fourth on 6-of-6 shooting including a dagger 3 to cap off his night and bring out the reserves for both teams.
Fidler also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds including one on the offensive end that led to this.
— Brad Frandsen (@Brad____Fran) February 10, 2021
Fidler wasn’t hitting from deep but found another way to make a big difference — going strong to the rim. He had a few really tough finishes in traffic as well as some run-out layups in transition after a Bellevue West stop.
Waukee features a pair of high-major-caliber wings in Iowa commit Payton Sandfort and Drake commit Tucker DeVries (who chose playing for his father in Des Moines over Creighton and a few others), but the future Maverick outscored the two of them combined by himself, 26 to 25.
It’s hard to go to a Bellevue West game and not write about Chucky Hepburn. He steps up on the big stage every time and Tuesday was no different.
He was siting on six points late in the first half and the Thunderbirds trailed by nine. Then he knocked down a corner 3, and a couple possessions later he hit another triple from the top of the key with a few seconds left to pull the Thunderbirds within three at halftime at 37-34.
Hepburn took over in the third quarter, assisting Fidler for a layup then Josiah Dotzler for a 3 before stealing the ball and taking it all the way for a flush that put the Thunderbirds ahead 41-37. Hepburn scored or assisted on Bellevue West’s first 11 points of the third quarter, and after taking the lead on that Dotzler 3-pointer, Bellevue West never relinquished it.
Hepburn finished with 20 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 4-of-6 from the line, nine assists, eight rebounds and three steals. I write it every time I watch Bellevue Wets play, but Wisconsin has a heck of a player heading to Madison this summer.
Dotzler to the Rescue
Bellevue West looked to be in trouble early on, falling behind by as much as 15 in the first quarter. The T-Birds shot 1-of-5 from 3 and turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter.
Then Dotzler, the sophomore guard, provided a much-needed spark. He scored 10 of Bellevue West’s first 11 points in the quarter with a pair of 3s and two tough finishes inside to get the Thunderbirds back into the game.
Hepburn and Fidler took over in the second half, so Dotzler didn’t get as many touches, but he did his job. I’ve seen a handful of spurts like that from Dotzler this season; once he gets hot he’s capable of going off and putting up double-digit points in a quarter at any time.
Dotzler finished with 15 points on 5-of-10 from the field, 3-of-8 from 3 and 2-of-2 from the line and he didn’t turn the ball over once. With Hepburn running the show, Dotzler has played mostly an off-ball roll for the Thunderbirds early on in his career. I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops next season once he slides back over to the point guard spot.
Not in Kyle’s Paint
Fidler may have stolen the show on offense in the fourth quarter, but the Thunderbirds wouldn’t have been able to create the separation they did without 6-foot-7 junior William Kyle III patrolling the paint. Kyle scored just two points in the fourth quarter and four for the game, but he dominated the final frame on defense.
Kyle had blocks and a steal in the fourth quarter alone. Omaha Biliew, a 6-foot-8 5-star sophomore forward, tried to score on him one-on-one and Kyle spiked his layup off the backboard. Then DeVries got past him only to have Kyle recover from behind and pin his layup too. He swatted a shot from senior guard Malik Allen later on, and he also altered another DeVries layup even if he didn’t get credited with a block on the play.
The first two blocks led to buckets for Fidler on the other end as Bellevue West opened the fourth with a 10-2 run after taking a two-point lead into the period. After Biliew scored seven points on 3-of-3 shooting in the first quarter, Kyle did a great job of denying post touches and battling with Biliew inside, holding him to four points in the last three quarters and none in the fourth.
Kyle did a great job of switching onto wings and staying in front of them, and that’s one of his best skills. He’s something of a late bloomer and still has a lot of room for growth on offense, but his defense and athleticism is a big part of why Bellevue West is 19-1 this season.
In fact, the game changed completely in the second quarter when Bellevue West upped the intensity and decided to get up and harass every Waukee ball-handler out to halfcourt. Hepburn is a terrific on-ball defender, Kyle held up on switches and Dotzler and senior Greg Brown did a great job as well as Bellevue West’s pressure completely disrupted Waukee’s offense.
The Warriors scored 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting (5-of-8 from 3) in the first quarter. They scored 35 points on 12-of-37 shooting (1-of-9 from deep) int he last three quarters including 3-of-15 in the fourth.
Terrific Tune-up for the T-birds
This game wasn’t originally on Bellevue West’s schedule, but when the Thunderbirds lost another game the Warriors were ready and willing to travel to Bellevue to fill the open date and test themselves against one of Nebraska’s best.
Waukee’s starting lineup stands 6-foot-5, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-7, 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 with four potential Division I players. This game was a great tune-up for the Thunderbirds as they head to the Heartland Hoops Classic in Grand Island on Saturday where they’ll face one of the best teams in the country in Sunrise Christian Academy out of Bel Aire, Kansas.
Sunrise will have a bit more size and quite a bit more athleticism than what Bellevue West faced on Tuesday, but Waukee is a lot closer to the Buffaloes than almost any team they’ll see in Nebraska.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.