Girls Basketball: Neuqua Valley tops Naperville Central in sectional semifinal
FROM STAFF REPORTS February 19, 2013 10:18PM
Neuqua Valley's Malia Smith drives to the basket late in the fourth quarter with Naperville Central's Jamie Cuny defending. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 10:42PM
At times the Neuqua Valley defense seemed to have more than five people on the floor.
The Wildcats utilized a swarming press and an outstanding all-around game by forward Najee Smith to charge to a 58-40 win over Naperville Central in Tuesday’s semifinals of the Class 4A Oswego Sectional.
Neuqua Valley (27-3) will play Bolingbrook (23-5) for the sectional championship Thursday at 7:30 p.m. In Tuesday night’s earlier game, Bolingbrook cruised past Romeoville 59-28.
“Our game is always to press,” said Smith. “All those steals in the first half got us going. We can score when we get the steals.”
Smith led the way with 21 points and her twin sister Malia chipped in 13. Each of the Smiths had five steals.
That pressing defense led the Wildcats to a 34-16 halftime lead over the Redhawks (25-7).
The two had faced each other last December coincidentally at the Oswego Holiday Tournament with the Redhawks taking the decision 48-47.
Naperville Central’s efforts to solve the Neuqua press got even tougher when 6-foot-1 forward Jamie Cuny went down with a shoulder injury with less than two minutes to go in the first quarter. She returned midway through the third period and helped the Redhawks to a mini-run that cut the lead by five points, but the Wildcats kept a steady hand and won going away.
“That was a very different team than the one we played in December,” said Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum about the Wildcats. “”We didn’t handle their pressure even remotely as well we as we wanted to. We’re not going to make any excuses. They outplayed us.”
Nussbaum had high praise for Najee Smith.
“She was outstanding,” Nussbaum said. “We knew coming in that she could shoot, but tonight she was great. And they have others who can shoot as well.”
“I’ve been working on my shooting,” Smith said. “Sometimes I even surprise myself.”
According to Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams the defensive job sophomore post player Bryce Menendez did on Naperville Central’s talented center Victoria Trowbridge was another key to the victory.
“A lot of kids stepped up tonight and played with intensity,” said Williams. “We told Bryce that her one job was to make it tough for Trowbridge. She stepped up and got in front of her and played her strong.”
Williams was pleased that his team rebounded better than it had in the earlier meeting between the two teams.
“Last time they got us on the boards,” he said. “Tonight, we hit the boards. With our rebounding and our defense we were all over the place.”
Allison Hedrick led the Wildcats in rebounding with nine.
Naperville Central’s offense was led by Shannon Ryan, who scored 11, including three 3-ponters, and Cierra Stanciel, who scored 10.
Trowbridge corralled 10 rebounds and blocked four shots.