The million-dollar question hanging over Monday's Montini-Bolingbrook matchup was clear:
Could Montini hang in there without Michala Johnson?
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If Bolingbrook's hard-fought 51-43 win at the McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook High School wasn't proof enough, Montini coach Jason Nichols made sure to put an exclamation point on it.
"I think we showed we're pretty darn good," Nichols said. "We beat that team with Michala Johson because they don't rebound like that and we score inside. We're better than that team full strength, period, the end. Without Michala, my girls took that team down to the wire, the team that's supposed to be the best team that anybody's ever seen."
Word got out Monday that Johnson would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in her right knee, casting a pall over the much-anticipated matchup between No. 1 in Class 4A and No. 1 in 3A. But the Montini players actually learned the news Friday.
"Very upset," Nichols said of their reaction. "About 6, 8 of them were crying. A lot of the kids were devastated. If we would have had to tell them today, it would have been not good."
Down by as many as 8 in the third quarter, Montini came back to take a 31-29 lead heading into the fourth. A Whitney Adams 3-point play tied it, and Whitney Holloway's breakaway layup off a Kiki Wilson steal in the final seconds pushed the Broncos ahead.
"We knew we could beat them and play with them," Montini senior Alison Seberger said. "Our coach said they are beatable."
It was 33-30 Montini after a Wilson jumper, and after a Bolingbrook 6-0 spurt Adams tied it 36-36 with a corner 3-pointer.
But after a Montini timeout Bolingbrook standout junior guard Ariel Massengale answered with a 3-pointer at the other end, igniting a 7-0 run to push the Raiders ahead 43-36.
"I probably screwed up calling that timeout," Nichols admitted. "I might have killed a little momentum."
Massengale scored 8 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter. Morgan Tuck had a game-high 20 points for Bolingbrook (13-1), whose last regular-season loss to an in-state team came to Whitney Young on Nov. 24, 2007.
"This kind of game was good to have," Bolingbrook coach Anthony Smith said. "We kind of looked up at the scoreboard when we were down and I said, 'Relax and just play our game. Don't panic. Don't go away from our gameplan.' We were going to have the last run. It was a game of runs and I knew at the end we'd have the last run."
With Johnson's 6-foot-3 presence missing inside, Bolingbrook hammered Montini early with 10 offensive rebounds in the first quarter. But Montini's matchup zone effectively turned the Raiders into a jump-shooting team, and they shot a woeful 23 percent in the first half.
Holloway scored 18 points for Montini (20-2), 8 during the third-quarter comeback. Adams added 8 points and 8 rebounds.
"It was an adjustment, not having Michala today," Holloway said. "You could really tell, especially on the defensive end, not getting as many rebounds as we're used to getting. We just have to work harder in practice and get better. It's a little setback not having her, but it won't stop us. We put up a good fight today."