NAUGATUCK — The Greyhounds picked a good time to be playing their best basketball of the season.
The Naugatuck boys knocked off Kennedy and Wilby — two of the top three teams in the Naugatuck Valley League — at home on back-to-back nights earlier this week and have won four of six games.
“We just proved we can play with anybody,” said Naugy guard Mick Pernell, who scored 21 points in an 80-72 upset of Wilby on Monday night. Naugy beat Kennedy, 63-60, on Sunday night.
The ‘Hounds (10-9) clinched a spot in the NVL tournament with the victory over Wilby after Naugy faced an uphill climb entering the week.
Brandon Kuczenski scored a team-high 33 points, including 10 in each of the first three quarters against the Wildcats. Kuczenski consistently created room on the low block and converted numerous hoops around the basket.
Kuczenski gave Naugy a 43-30 edge, its largest lead of the game, 45 seconds into the third quarter.
“Compared to the start of the year to now, he’s got his game to improve by leaps and bounds,” Naugy head coach Mike Wilson said. “Just his physicality and getting early post position, he’s been a factor down low.”
Wilby, which entered the game with a 16-2 record and the No. 6 state ranking, chipped away during the rest of the third quarter and early in the fourth. Denzel Mitchell opened the fourth with a 3-pointer from the right arc to trim the deficit 57-55 with 7:40 left.
Taifa Wright, one of Wilby’s lightning-quick guards, tied the game at 62 with 5:15 to go.
Pernell and the Greyhounds had an answer. Pernell drained 3s on consecutive possessions to push the Naugy lead back to six.
Moments later, Naugy’s Maleek Brooks followed up a Pernell miss to increase the lead to 70-62 with 3:54 to go. From there, the Greyhounds held off a Wilby comeback by overcoming pressure defense and making enough free throws.
Wilson gave credit to guard Jason Bradley for keeping the Greyhounds steady late in the game.
“Jason Bradley really helps us out, he gives a calming demeanor on the court and he just makes basketball plays,” Wilson said. “His unselfishness is just contagious to the team.”
Naugy lost to Wilby 81-73 back on Dec. 27. This time, the Greyhounds matched Wilby’s intensity and managed the pace of the game.
“Last time their guard pressure, how fast their guards play, kind hurt us a little bit,” Kuczenski said. “But we got back on defense and our guards handled their pressure really well.”
Naugatuck is set to host Torrington in the regular-season finale Wednesday night. The Greyhounds could improve from their No. 8 seed in the tournament — and a meeting with No. 1 Crosby — with a victory and help from other teams in the league. The NVL quarterfinals are scheduled for Saturday.
Now, with the end of the season upon us, the Greyhounds hope to build on the success of earlier this week.
“We didn’t give up halfway through the year,” Pernell said. “We’re still coming strong and we’re playing even better than we were before.”