Class 4A Elgin supersectional
Waukegan (25-4) vs. Bartlett (18-11)
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When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Elgin High School
How they got here: Bartlett won its regional by beating St. Charles North 40-36 and South Elgin 66-61 and won the Rockford Boylan sectional by beating Rockford Jefferson 58-54 and Boylan 59-57 (OT); Waukegan won the Buffalo Grove regional by beating Rolling Meadows 90-60 and Buffalo Grove 73-52 and won its sectional by beating Stevenson 68-52 and Schaumburg 72-54.
State tourney history: This is Bartlett's first trip to an Elite Eight after winning its first sectional title. Waukegan was the 2009 state runner up after losing to Whitney Young in the title game, 69-66. The Bulldogs are making their 10th supersectional appearance. They qualified for the state finals in 1959, 1969, 1975 (AA) and 2009 (4A).
Not the first time: This will be the fourth boys basketball supersectional held at Chesbrough Field House. In 1986, Evanston beat Carmel 71-65 in a Class AA super at Chesbrough. In 1988, the Wildkits came to town and won again, 66-61 over Warren. In 1989, New Trier downed Warren 64-54 for a trip to state. Elgin High also hosted a Class 3A girls super this season, in which Oswego beat Johnsburg.
Outlook: Elgin's Chesbrough Field House hosts an intriguing matchup between the state's top-ranked team in Waukegan and tournament surprise Bartlett, which was seeded No. 2 in its own regional. The Bulldogs return four of the five starters from the second-place team in the state in 2009. Bartlett has a pair of three-year varsity performers (Mike Banks and senior guard Frankie Cleope). Labedzki is a four-year varsity player and the school's all-time leading scorer.
The Bulldogs bested the Hawks 78-36 at the Waukegan Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 27. "We were still trying to find ourselves," Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw said Monday. "We did have a lot of success pressuring them, which caused them to make some mistakes.
"But what we're really trying to do is not take that game into consideration. Of all the scouting and prep work we've done, I have yet to watch that first game at Thanksgiving. I think I'm going to avoid watching it entirely because they're nowhere near the team that they were, and I like to think that we're a lot different than we were back in those days."
Waukegan's starters have accounted for 1,862 of the team's 2,085 points (89.3 percent). In addition to his 20.6 points per game, Illinois-bound Jereme Richmond is averaging 11.4 rebounds and has 78 blocked shots. But the Bulldogs are not a one-man show.
"We're dangerous at all five spots," Ashlaw said. "Like last year around this time, Jereme is starting to assert himself in the post area and teams are countering that by double and triple teaming him. It's nice to have shooters and penetrators around him who can be dangerous. Defenses have to make a choice: are they going to stop him around the basket or are they going to still try to guard our perimeter guys? We have great balance. We have four or five guys in double digits in just about all our state tournament games, which I think is a huge formula for success."
Bartlett averages 61.8 points per game. Waukegan averages 71.9 points and limits opponents to 59.4. In the November meeting, the Bulldogs held the Hawks to 4-of-34 shooting from 3-point range (11.8 percent), well below their season average of 30.1 percent from beyond the arc.
"They play very good, aggressive defense," Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said of the Bulldogs. "They're looking to double team all the time. They try to get you out of your comfort zone. I think what you have to do as a team is be smart, not dribble into trapping scenarios, not dribble into the wrong spots. You have to be smart about not making long passes that they can pick off.
"Realistically, not only is Richmond arguably the best player in the state, but Quan Conner (6.2 assists, 3.1 turnovers, 52 3-pointers) is one heck of a ballplayer for them. Their guards are all quick. They've got some pretty talented kids coming off the bench. What you don't want to have happen is to get in a game like we did the first time where you're just throwing shots up because you're intimidated by the pressure and the athleticism and everything else."
Bartlett's four straight playoff wins match its longest winning streak of the regular season, accomplished in early December.
"We're playing well right now, playing with a lot of confidence and poise," Wolfsmith said. "I think we can handle what's going to happen. We've watched video of that first game to talk about the things we did poorly and we did well. We've got to do a better job of moving the ball, making the extra pass and finding the open man.
"And when we get the open man, we have to knock those shots down. They don't give you a lot second-chance points. They give you the one and they contest it. The hope is that you'll rush the shot or try to get into a running game with them. My team likes to run and I'm not really going to contain it, but we've talked with our kids about valuing possessions. They bought into that against Boylan and we valued every possession that we had and made sure we got decent looks and decent shots. Hopefully, we'll do that again."
What's ahead: The winner advances to Friday's 8:15 p.m. semifinal at the Peoria Civic Center's Carver Arena against the winner of the Chicago (UIC) supersectional between Simeon (22-9) and Benet Academy (26-3).