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ETHS girls pick up the pace in tournament opener

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The Christmas break allowed Brittanny Johnson to catch her breath, and study more game film this week.

The Evanston basketball coach didn’t always like what she saw on those films and decided to do something about it starting with the Wildkit opener Thursday at the 11th annual Montini Christmas Tournament, the most prestigious girls holiday tourney in the state of Illinois.

At the start of a 2-week grind that could find the Kit girls playing as many as 8 games in 10 days, Johnson dug deeper into her bench than usual and the Wildkits whipped Batavia 73-34 in a running clock game.

Evanston played the up-tempo style that Johnson prefers and moved into the tournament quarterfinals with the victory. The Wildkits will face Bolingbrook, a 56-39 winner over Lake Zurich, at 8:15 p.m. on Friday. Bolingbrook features three Division I recruits in its starting lineup.

“I watched a lot of film and I saw a lot of times that we were just walking the ball up the floor, and that’s because I’ve only been playing 6 or 7 girls in the rotation,”admitted the coach after her team improved to 10-0 on the season. “And the reason they were walking it up the court was because they’re tired.

“We’ve gotten away from being a pressure-type of team and I want to put us in a position to be at our best. Part of our identity as a team is to push it up the court. I realized I have to utilize our bench a lot more and that’s what made this a feel-good win for us today.”

Eight of the 10 players the Wildkits used scored points, led by Rashele Olantunbosun (13 points) and Kayla Henning and Lola Lesmond (12 apiece). Off the bench, junior guard Jayiona Cobbs played more than half of the game and contributed 6 points, 3 rebounds and 2 steals for the winners.

Evanston’s unselfish play featured assists on most of the team’s 32 field goals and helped the winners shoot 52 percent from the floor. Cobbs, who couldn’t have been blamed for an “I’ll get my points now’ attitude in the final minute of a 40-point blowout, instead epitomized that unselfish play even as a reserve when she ran the offense and dumped in a pass that led to a layup for teammate Amari Mays with just 52 seconds left in the game.

Johnson hopes to count on Cobbs’ athleticism even more in the weeks ahead.

“I get it, it’s hard to adjust from the JV to the varsity level,” said the ETHS coach. “Jayiona was really focused in practice, and it showed today. It’s been hard for her to earn minutes and she’s still figuring things out. But she’s a good athlete, a solid player at that guard spot.”

Batavia chose to run with the Wildkits right from the start, and ETHS broke out to an 11-0 lead on buckets from four different starters, including a 3-pointer by Olantunbosun. The Wildkits pushed the lead to 19-9 after the first quarter, then outscored the losers 19-6 in the second period and never looked back.

Evanston shot a blistering 12-of-15 from the floor in the third quarter, with crisp ball movement and transition play the keys to one of their most productive quarters of the season.

“We’ve talked about how we’re so talented offensively, that they’re so good they can make the really tough plays when we need them to,” said Johnson. “But no one on this team is selfish and we can be a really strong team if we work together. We have to utilize everyone.”

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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