Sophomore SyAnn Holmes and freshman Kayla Henning shared most of the defensive burden trying to stop Glenbrook South star guard Carrie Weinman in Thursday’s battle for the Central Suburban League South division girls basketball lead in Glenview.
But Evanston first-year head coach Brittanny Johnson put her trust in a senior when it came to that assignment in crunch time.
Senior stopper Brianna Miller kept Weinman in check at the end of the fourth quarter and in overtime as the Wildkits escaped with a 59-56 overtime victory and kept their perfect record intact.
Miller, who had built a reputation as a defensive stalwart for the previous ETHS coaching staff, earned Johnson’s trust and played what might have been the best 62 seconds of her basketball life with the two teams tied at 48-48 with time running out in the fourth quarter.
Weinman, who finished with a game-high 27 points, never even touched the basketball with the game on the line with Miller glued to her jersey. South’s Makayla Stadler wound up launching a deep 3-point attempt at the buzzer that never came close.
Having earned a reprieve after losing a double-digit lead, the Wildkits scored the first five points of the overtime session — all of them by Leighah-Amori Wool — and Miller harassed Weinman just enough to keep her from going off and torching the visitors one more time.
Wool (19 points) and Allysah Boothe (14 points) paced Evanston, now 14-0 overall and 5-0 in conference play. The victory moved the Kit girls into the driver’s seat in the division race, considering that 4 of 5 CSL South games they play in the second half will be played at Beardsley Gym.
Back-to-back road wins at New Trier and GBS haven’t been achieved by many Wildkit teams in the past. But Johnson’s veterans rose to the occasion and fought back after the host Titans ran off 11 unanswered points midway through the fourth quarter.
GBS still led 48-45 with 1 minute, 25 seconds remaining in regulation. But South’s Gabby Amesquita missed two bonus free throws, and at the other end Wool muscled her way to a 3-point play to keep the Kits alive.
That’s when it became Miller Time on defense.
“SyAnn was in foul trouble, and Kayla had a look on her face like I don’t know if I can guard this girl,” said Johnson about her defensive options at the end.
“It’s great to have seniors you can count on like Brianna. She struggled against her at first early in the game, but she came out and did a great job against a great player there at the end.
“I turned to her because I knew she’d get it done. She’s been struggling on offense, but she’s learned that she can affect games in other ways. Her defensive presence was huge for us tonight, and I think our mindset really changed when she started guarding Weinman. Weinman’s the toughest matchup we’ve had defensively all year. She has the ability to shoot, the ability to drive to the basket, and I noticed that she’s a really strong defender, too.”
Weinman connected on 9-of-20 field goal attempts, but missed two shots and turned the ball over twice in the final minute with Miller hovering close by. The GBS senior also had a game-high 11 rebounds.
“I had a really bad first quarter against her,” said Miller, who did take regular turns defending the high scoring guard last year. “But my teammates kept pushing me through and lifting my spirits. At the end, Coach just told me to get up on her and make sure she doesn’t touch the ball, so that’s what I did.
“Whenever Coach puts me against a key player like that, it boosts my energy a lot. I know I have to do whatever I can to stop that one player. I guarded her last year, too, and I didn’t have much success.”
The combination of Holmes and Henning actually held Weinman scoreless in the second quarter and helped ETHS outscore the Titans 19-6, providing a 24-16 halftime advantage. A pair of clutch 3-point baskets by Boothe — one coming after consecutive offensive rebounds by Miller — kept the Kits ahead comfortably 36-29 entering the final quarter.
In the OT session, Evanston converted 7-of-10 free throw attempts, including a charity toss by Miller with 5.6 seconds to play for a 3-point edge. The second (successful) toss was wiped out by a lane violation, but Miller forced Weinman to double dribble on the final possession to secure the victory.
It marked the second overtime victory of the season for the Wildkit girls, who will play next week at the Montini Christmas Tournament.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.