EAST LANSING - The Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University is a theater of dreams for Michigan prep basketball players. But it's a green-and-white double-edged sword, too.
Today's Class C semifinal is both a reward for a postseason of excellence and a challenge to stay focused on the big goal two days away.
"We stress to them from the district championship until now how you can't take these opportunities for granted. You can't be satisfied, either," Houghton coach Julie Filpus said.
Standing in their way is the same team that knocked Houghton off its throne when the Gremlins last got here in 2006: Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central.
Obviously, both teams are completely different, but the defensive intensity Nouvel applied in that semifinal is something that has carried through the years and something the Gremlins are wary of.
"We weren't prepared for it and we're going to do a better job helping our kids do a better job reading what they're trying to do for (today)," Filpus said.
Among the eye-popping results: holding three-time defending Class D champ Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes to 22 points in a Feb. 21 blowout and wins over the No. 1 teams in Class B and Class C, knocking out Associated Press No. 1 Reese in a regional semifinal last week.
Reese beat the Panthers (ranked No. 4) in the regular season, as did one other team, a Carson City-Crystal squad that was tied with Houghton at No. 7 in the last AP poll.
Nouvel has lots of size, starting with senior all-state forward Taylor Hengesbach and junior forward Rachel McInerney. Still, Filpus said she was pleased with how her team handled a big front line in defeating Shelby in the state quarterfinal Tuesday in Petoskey.
"It wasn't good the entire game, but when push came to shove in the fourth quarter, we pulled down some huge rebounds," she said.
Before facing Shelby's 6-1 All-State forward Sydney Czurak, Filpus said when all else fails on the defensive end, her team had to respond offensively, and it did, led by Elisa Jurmu's 26 points.
"That was there all evening, whether it was Elisa or Blaire (Zenner) or Alexa (Johnson) with a big three, we had an answer for them all evening," she said.
The winner today will see either Manchester (25-1) or Riverview Gabriel Richard (16-7) in Saturday's championship game at 4 p.m.