Evanston’s girls basketball team has 2 months left to catch Maine West.
But the Wildkits discovered Tuesday night at Beardsley Gymnasium that the gap might not be as wide between them and the team that figures to earn the top seed for the Illinois High School Association sectional tournament as they might have thought prior to a 51-39 loss in a Central Suburban League crossover game.
In the months to come, the Kit girls hope to jump off the roller coaster ride that both head coach Brittanny Johnson and assistant coach Steve Wool have often referred to for a squad, now 6-5 overall, that returned only one starter (TaMia Banks) from last year’s powerhouse.
“We’re still on the roller coaster ride because we don’t know whether the offense or the defense will show up on a given night,” Wool said Tuesday. “We haven’t been consistent. I think we’re a team with a lot of room to grow. I give full credit to the girls for maintaining their focus over the last couple of weeks, and I think the ship is heading in the right direction.”
The unbeaten Warriors, ranked third in the state of Illinois, mustered only 16 points in the second half Tuesday but limited the hosts to just 2-of-14 shooting from the field in the fourth quarter of the rematch between last year’s sectional finalists.
Maine West (11-0) prevailed behind 16-point performances from Rachel Kent and Catherine Johnson. Evanston turned in a balanced effort led by Kayla Henning (9 points, 8 rebounds), Ambrea Gentle (9 points, 6 rebounds), Banks (8 points) and SyAnn Holmes (7 points, 5 rebounds).
Evanston surrendered 35 points in the first half before applying the defensive clamps against the Warriors and forcing the winners to play more of a halfcourt game over the final two periods.
“I thought SyAnn did a great job on Alisa Fallon (5 points) because she’d been averaging about 17 points a game for them. SyAnn’s a tough matchup for anyone,” Wool pointed out. “But the main thing was that we got back on defense better in the second half. We were right there with them if we could’ve scored a few more points (in the fourth quarter).”
Evanston closed to within 45-37 with 5 minutes remaining, and then the offenses on both sides stalled. But the Kits missed four straight shots on two separate possessions and couldn’t turn up the heat any more on the Warriors. West eventually responded with a pair of free throws by Kent at the 2:28 mark to push the lead back to double figures.
“Maine West was very patient and very disciplined in their execution tonight,” said Wool. “We still need to develop our execution all the way through on offense and find our options. We had trouble adjusting when they switched defenses in the first half and that’s when Maine West’s experience showed. Our guards didn’t do a good job of attacking the seams in their zone initially.
“We were right there with the No. 3 ranked team in the state and this game gives us a really good measuring stick now.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.