Evanston head girls basketball coach Brittanny Johnson describes her team as a work in progress.
And the Wildkits showed Tuesday night that they’ve still got some work to do if they’re planning to topple the No. 1 team in the state in another couple of months.
Unbeaten Maine West turned back the Kits 60-46 on the Warriors’ home court in the second meeting between the two cage powers already this season, in a Central Suburban League crossover game.
And if there’s a third time — in the Class 4A sectional tournament — that could mean that Evanston will rank as one of the most improved teams in the state of Illinois.
Johnson’s squad challenged the Warriors on their home court and twice pulled to within 5 points in the fourth quarter, then went stone cold on offense and netted just 3 points in the last 4 minutes, 8 seconds of regulation play.
Evanston (9-2) was led by Ambrea Gentle’s 19 points and 14 rebounds, plus 11 points off the bench from Jayla Turchin. West, now 13-0 and ranked No. 1 in the first Class 4A Associated Press poll of the season, was paced by Dylan Van Fleet’s 17 points and 13 from 6-foot-4 center Angela Dugalic.
Johnson had no trouble seeing the glass as half full — not half empty — when comparing Tuesday’s loss to Maine West’s 58-34 triumph over the Kits the day after Thanksgiving at the Schaumburg tournament.
“We’re still a work in progress, and we’ll definitely learn from this game,” Johnson said. “It’s not February yet, and our season is NOT over. I hope we’ll keep improving. I think we played better than the first time we played them. We literally gave up in that game, and I was proud of the way we hung in there tonight.
“That fourth quarter was the difference between an experienced team that has gone Downstate and one that is working toward it — us. Maine West is a very experienced team and when you make a run like they did last year — even though I don’t know how many of these girls were on that team — you gain so much from it. You can tell that they understand how to play together.”
Evanston surrendered 30 points in the first half, many of them on layups, and had difficulty solving Maine West’s zone. The Wildkits also struggled offensively despite coming back in the second half, connecting on just 9-of-34 field goal attempts in the last two quarters.
ETHS trailed 30-20 at halftime.
“We had a game plan tonight, but we didn’t follow it the first 5 minutes of the game,” Johnson explained. “Maine West is very good defensively in their zones and they force you out of what you want to do. They deserve the credit. They’re a very good team.”
Gentle, who was limited to 2 points in the first half due partly to foul trouble, came on strong in the second half and scored most of her points on offensive rebounds. But the Wildkits still stared at a double figure deficit for much of the second half.
A steal by Tyler Mayne and two buckets by Gentle pulled the visitors within 45-40 with 6 minutes left on the clock, and Mayne tossed in a 3-point field goal with 4:08 left to keep it a two-possession game at 48-43.
That’s when the Warriors took over and pulled away, converting 8-of-9 free throw attempts down the stretch.