MADISON, Wis.—Dupree Fletcher had one goal in mind for his weekend at the Kohl Center: Bring the gold ball back to Milwaukee King.
King, 26-0 last season and a top five team in the country early this season according to USA Today, had a bit of a chip on its shoulder through three tournament days. The Generals play throughout the weekend said, simply, we respect you, but we will beat you.
Madison Memorial entered Saturday's Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 1 championship game as the top-ranked team in the state, a perfect 25-0 record intact. The Generals, though, kept Memorial from completing its 26th win and claimed its second consecutive state championship by a 75-58 margin.
"Don't get me wrong, they was a very good team but I think from the get-go, from November, we should have been ranked No. 1," Fletcher said. "Going 26-0 last year, that was kind of disrespect to us, but we took the challenge on and we made it."
The score was far from indicative of the quality or nature of the game. The Spartans led from nearly start to finish, but King (23-3) turned the game on its head with a relentless fourth-quarter rally with Fletcher leading the way.
"Dupree, I saw a blaze in his eyes," King head coach Jim Gosz said. "I've seen it before in a Michael Jordan where he gets that look. You notice I didn't say much in the huddles tonight. Dupree was the coach, player, leader."
Memorial proved its mettle early, scoring the first 12 points of the game and leading 14-2 after the first quarter.
"I have no idea what happened out there," Gosz said. "14-2, I was writing a good obituary and I'm ready to not pack it in, but, oh man, this could get ugly."
Fletcher, though, would not be denied. The runaway choice for the four-division tournament's Most Valuable Player, the senior guard willed the Generals back into the game, drilling three 3-pointers and scoring 11 points in the second quarter alone.
"I wasn't doing it for me, I was doing it for the team," Fletcher said. "I was trying to win one more for King. I'm proud to wear a King jersey and just relieved to win it back-to-back."
The Spartans' advantage slipped to 32-30 by halftime but
they refused to relinquish the lead until there were less than six minutes left
in the game.
Then, the dam broke. Fletcher hit another 3-pointer to give King its first lead of the game, 50-48, with 5:44 showing on the clock. A minute later, Fletcher hit his sixth 3-pointer of the game, giving King a 55-48 lead in the midst of a 31-10 fourth-quarter outburst that left Memorial wondering what hit them.
"It was probably one of the most remarkable fourth quarters you'll ever see," Gosz said.
"I knew we was going to make our run because we always make a run so it wasn't no pressure on us, we just gathered together and said, ‘come with it,'" Fletcher said.
Fletcher finished with 29 points on 9 of 22 shooting, including 6 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc. He made 5 of 7 free throws and dictated the tempo of the game, his quickness proving far too much for Memorial to handle.
"We were talking in the coaching office about worst-case scenarios," Memorial head coach Steve Collins said. "Worst case scenario was we didn't get a whistle and Dupree Fletcher went off. The second one obviously happened."
Michael Nelson, who will play Division I basketball for North Dakota State next year, could not stick with the 5-foot-11 dynamo. For that matter, no one could. And as good as Fletcher was offensively, he was even better defensively, picking up a Division 1 state tournament single-game record six steals and leading a full-court press that contributed to 26 Spartan turnovers. Fletcher shut down whoever he was guarding from the opening tip.
"Dupree probably has the quickest hands in 15 years I've ever seen," Collins added. "He picks the ball before you know you're doing it. It did snowball."
"Just like I said yesterday, it is defense," Fletcher said. "Defense is going to win the games. Offense come and go. But put your mind to it and play defense you should be all good."
Sunday, Fletcher was named to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association first-team all-state squad. After his dominating performance in Madison, he is the odds-on favorite for the state's Associated Press Player of the Year honor. But regardless of how that voting, which takes place Sunday, unfolds, Fletcher and King proved over this championship weekend that they are without match.