Girls Basketball: Evanston downs Naperville CentralNaperville Central's Jamie Cuny (24) pushes past Evanston's Alecia Cooley (32) during the first quarter at Dundee Crown High School in Carpentersville, Ill., on Monday, December 26, 2011.
| Andrew A. Nelles~For Sun-Times Media |
Updated: December 26, 2011 10:52PM
Evanston’s offense wasn’t good on Monday, but it rarely is.
The Wildkits’ defense, however, was outstanding. As a result, Evanston advanced to the quarterfinals of the Dundee-Crown Charger Classic with a 41-20 victory over Naperville Central in opening round action. The Wildkits (8-6) will play local rival New Trier, which beat Regina 53-27.
Evanston’s offensive numbers would be poor enough to result in a loss on most days. The Wildkits shot 18 for 60 (30 percent) from the floor and 3-for-7 from the foul line. But led by Sinclair Cunningham and Sierra Clayborn, they held Naperville Central (6-6) to just three baskets in the first half and seven overall.
“That’s the story of our lives,” Evanston coach Elliot Whitefield said. “Offensively we don’t get much in transition or off turnovers. We struggle to score at times but we’ve gotten better.
“Defensively, today especially, the kids played great team defense. Help-side was outstanding, the pressure was great. I knew if [the Redhawks] were able to get the ball inside, it would be trouble, but the pressure we were able to put on them at the perimeter sort of took away their post game.”
That is an understatement. Naperville Central’s star center, 6-3 senior Emma Donahue, took just seven shots and made two, one of which was a three-pointer in the third quarter after the game was out of reach.
After Victoria Trowbridge scored to pull within the Redhawks within 4-2, they were held scoreless for the next 9 minutes, 41 seconds. Evanston led 9-2 after the first quarter and 20-7 at halftime.
“We just came out strong,” Cunningham said. “From beginning to end we played strong, played hard. It was nice. Everybody was contributing and we had fun this game.”
The 6-1 Cunningham made only 4 of 13 shots, but she grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds to go with her eight points and four steals. Clayborn, a 5-8 sophomore, tallied a game-high 10 points 5 of 17 shooting and added six boards and two steals, while 6-2 junior Alecia Cooley chipped in eight points and eight rebounds.
“We stayed up the lines, [made] good steals,” Cunningham said. “We had great help this game. It was man defense and run the floor.”
It was brake-and-brick for the Redhawks, who were only 7 of 36 (19 percent) from the floor and 4 of 12 from the line and trailed 32-10 after three quarters. Reserve Laura Dierking led Naperville Central with eight points and seven rebounds, all of which came in the second half after Cunningham and Cooley were on the bench.
“At times she’s so quick to help and just leave her man, but she just had a great balance of anticipation and leadership,” Whitefield said of Cunningham. “She’s always communicating and telling the kids what they should be doing or where they should be going. She’s a special player. And Alecia is like a woman among girls. She was outstanding.”
Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said he wouldn’t be surprised if Evanston upsets New Trier. Cunningham, for one, agrees.
“We’re just proving people wrong,” Cunningham said. “No one thinks we can do it because we have a different coach, different team this year. That’s our goal; prove them wrong. We can win the whole tournament as long as we keep playing hard, going strong and staying out of foul trouble.”
Nussbaum is focused on making sure the Redhawks get out of what he hopes is a one-day funk.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make, but we’re not going to make excuses,” Nussbaum said. “A team of our caliber, our program, we should be better than that. I’m not even talking about winning. I’m just talking about competing.
“I don’t care if we’re playing on July the 4th, we’ve got to be able to put more than 20 points on the board. We played poorly and we’re going to try and fix the problem.”