Girls Basketball: Najee Smith energizes Neuqua in regional title winAllison Hedrick (23) of Neuqua Valley prepares to shoot as Amira Turner (22) of Metea Valley defends from above. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 17, 2012 11:56PM
Neuqua Valley girls basketball coach Mike Williams held sophomore guard Najee Smith out the past two games with a strained Achilles’ tendon.
In Friday’s Class 4A Oswego Regional title game against rival Metea Valley, however, Williams turned Smith loose.
It turned out to be just what the Wildcats needed in their 52-41 regional title win, Neuqua’s first regional crown since 2006.
Smith scored six points off the bench as part of a 14-0 run in the first quarter and then scored Neuqua’s final seven points of the game, pouring in a team-high 14 points overall, as the Wildcats pulled away to set up Tuesday’s 6 p.m. showdown with three-time defending state champion Bolingbrook in the Class 4A Neuqua Valley Sectional semifinals.
“I could see in the locker room that the girls were kind of dead,” Smith said. “I think the bench brings us energy every time. We lost to them a few games back, so I wanted this victory. I just came out strong.”
Najee Smith’s twin sister, Malia, scored the first four points of the 14-0 first-quarter run for Neuqua (23-6). The lead swelled to 17-5 at one point, but Metea (16-13) did not give in.
Bria Walker (game-high 17 points) drilled a three-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter and hit another three early in the second as part of a 12-0 run that brought the Mustangs back to a 17-17 tie. Walker drilled another three in the waning seconds of the half to cut Neuqua’s halftime lead to 24-21.
“Bria had a heck of a game and kept us in it,” Metea coach Kris Kalivas said.
But in the third quarter, with the game well within reach, the Mustangs suffered a team-wide cold streak from the free throw line. Neuqua was able to extend its lead to 34-25 after the third thanks in large part to Metea hitting only 2-of-12 from the line in the third.
“We shot ourselves in the foot time and time again tonight,” Kalivas said. “Unfortunately, we picked a heck of a night to have an off night. We put ourselves in a position to be where we wanted to be, and we couldn’t convert.”
Senior Megan Doody scored 12 points for Neuqua with Malia Smith adding 11 in the win.
Neuqua was able to keep Metea at arm’s length in the fourth to set up a showdown with one of the top teams in the nation, Bolingbrook, who put a 94-36 beating on West Aurora Thursday. The Raiders feature one of the top players in the nation in UConn-bound senior Morgan Tuck, as well as an astounding eight other Division I recruits.
“This was a big one to get,” Neuqua coach Mike Williams said. “Right now, we just get ready to play the Yankees.”