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posted: 3/9/2012 12:01 AM

Underdog Schaumburg gets unbeaten Proviso East

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  • Schaumburg's Michael Mallett drives in for a tiebreaking 3-point play in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's Class 4A sectional semifinal victory over Oak Park-River Forest.

       Schaumburg's Michael Mallett drives in for a tiebreaking 3-point play in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's Class 4A sectional semifinal victory over Oak Park-River Forest.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 

Schaumburg junior guard Kyle Bolger likes his team's role for tonight's Class 4A boys basketball sectional championship game.

And don't expect the underdog and host Saxons (24-5) to just let unbeaten Proviso East (29-0) roll along toward its expected destination of Peoria.

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"We're excited," said Schaumburg senior Christian Spandiary, who will be playing in his third straight sectional final.

"That's what we're looking for," Bolger said. "We always like challenges."

And there's no question this is a big one for the Saxons.

"You don't get this many opportunities," said Schaumburg senior Michael Mallett.

"Once again we'll be ready," said Schaumburg coach Matt Walsh. "We certainly understand we're not only playing one of the top teams in the state but one of the top teams in the country.

"We'll be ready for the challenge."

One the entire starting lineup -- Bolger, Spandiary, Mallett, Jimmy Lundquist and Joey Faleni -- experienced a year ago with playing time in the New Trier sectional final loss to Niles North.

And the Saxons will rely on what brought them to this point with 10 consecutive wins.

"We need to play our game and it always starts with defense," Bolger said.

"We have to take care of the ball," Mallett said. "We can't be intimidated by them and we have to focus on defense and keep their guards out of the lane."

Compare and contrast: First-year Proviso East coach Donnie Boyce knows a little bit about the program's best teams. Boyce was part of the famed "Three Amigos" with Michael Finley and Sherell Ford that won the third of the school's four state titles in 1991.

"The similarity I see is both teams go for the kill," Boyce said. "If they sense any fear or intimidation it's a cue for us to continue to attack and break the other team's will. Both teams are well balanced but in '91 we had a little more height and explosiveness."

The 6-foot-7 Finley, 6-7 Ford and 6-5 Boyce all starred in college and played in the NBA. This year's trio of Loyola-bound Keith Carter, Curie transfer Paris Burns and junior Paris Lee, dubbed "The French Connection," does it differently at 6-1, 5-11 and 5-10.

Carter, who averages 17 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds, is in his fourth varsity season.

"The area he's matured in most is decision-making," Boyce said. "This year he's more trusting of his teammates. The addition of Burns has been huge with the leadership he brings.

"Those three do such a great job of setting the tempo for us."

Proviso East is a win away from joining the state champs in 1969, 1991 and 1992 with 30 wins. Boyce's team went 32-1 and the 1992 team won all 33 of its games.

"This team has better overall quickness than '91 but we had better overall cohesiveness," Boyce said. "Another difference is we had a lot more senior leadership. Mike, Sherell and I policed everything.

"Coach (Bill Hitt) didn't have to put his foot down as much as I put my foot down."

A Bell-ringing finish: Bradley fans who just endured the program's worst season in history at 7-25 can only hope Ka'Darryl Bell plays in Peoria the way he did in the final eight-plus minutes of his career in an Oak Park-River Forest uniform.

Bell, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the last 8:03 of Oak Park's 64-60 sectional semifinal loss to Schaumburg. Bell's 10 points in the final minute helped his team slice a 10-point deficit to 2.

"He was tremendous in the fourth," said Oak Park coach Matt Maloney after Bell hit two of his three 3-pointers in the last minute. "His refuse-to-lose attitude put us so close to being able to tie that thing up after it was looking like it was lost."

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