The offense may finally be catching up to the defense played by Evanston’s girls basketball team.
If that’s the case, then it won’t matter where the Wildkits are seeded when the Class 4A Illinois High School Association sectional tournament rankings are determined next week. They’ll be a team that no one with hopes of a deep postseason run wants to line up against.
Coach Elliot Whitefield’s team erupted for a season-high 71 points Tuesday night in a 71-37 trouncing of Grayslake North, stretching their winning string to 8 straight and improving to 19-3 overall with the non-conference triumph at Beardsley Gym.
After watching what had been a 20-point advantage dwindle to 40-32 at the start of the fourth quarter, the Kits poured in 31 points in the final period. That’s more points than some teams have scored in an entire GAME against the Wildkits this year.
Leighah-Amori Wool turned in the team’s best all-around performance Tuesday with 23 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals, backed up by Krystal Forrester (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Leah Robinson (11 points, 10 rebounds). The Wildkits attempted a whopping 74 field goals — connecting on 29 for a 40 percent showing — as every player seemed locked into more of an offensive mindset than in past games this season.
Even the state’s elite girls teams rarely have more than two players at a time who pose double figure threats. Whitefield knows that for his team to continue to grow, that progress will mostly come at the offensive end of the floor. The veteran coach is willing to live with an occasional “bad” shot if the Kits can still score in the 60s and 70s.
“We know that from now on other teams will start keying on Leighah, so when you get into (tournament) games where every possession is extremely important, they’ll have the confidence that they’re good enough to knock shots down,” Whitefield said. “We know that when Leah Robinson is aggressive inside, she can hurt people. And we know that Krystal Forrester has improved her outside game and that Brianna Miller has, too.
“We’ve probably worked on our shooting 50 percent more than usual the last week in practice. We worked on it a lot. I think when Leighah is knocking down shots like she did tonight (10-of-19 from the floor after a 1-of-7 start), everyone else gets more confident.
“Any time you put together a string of wins like this, it builds the girls’ confidence. Our goal is to finish out the season strong, maybe win a co-conference championship, and then make a run in the tournament. For us to be legitimate contenders to go Downstate, we need everyone on board — with no hitchhikers. It will be amazing to see how good we can be when we all make the commitment and put in the effort in practice.”
Despite Wool’s slow start, the Wildkits put up 20 points in the first quarter and limited the visiting Knights to just 3 points in the second quarter for a comfortable 31-14 lead at halftime. The hosts stretched the lead to 40-20 midway through the third stanza, but then Wool (fourth personal foul) and point guard Cookie Boothe (rest) went to the bench and Grayslake scored the last 12 points of the period.
Wool quickly regained control in the fourth quarter, firing in 10 points in the first 3 minutes on a pair of drives to the rim and a pair of 3-point shots. She later added a rebound bucket as part of Evanston’s 13-0 surge that put the game back out of reach again.
Wool’s versatility has schools like DePaul University on her recruiting trail because there aren’t many 6-foot juniors who can score from the perimeter, drive with both hands, rebound and handle the ball well. And her 4 steals contributed to the fact that Evanston forced 25 turnovers by the visitors.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.