Fremd, it has the stars in Ashley McConnell and Haley Gorecki.
Neuqua Valley is more of an ensemble cast, and that’s just fine with Wildcats coach and apparent Broadway show fan Mike Williams.
“My wife and I, we went to see the show ‘Cats,’” Williams said, “and we were both saying that this team is like that show. They are just indescribably beautiful to watch. They really are. They are a composed group with the elements of a Broadway show. You never know who’s going to stand out, nobody ever really stands out, but they all stand out together.”
No. 3 Neuqua’s full complement put on another show Saturday at the 23rd McDonald’s Shootout, smothering No. 5 Fremd with depth and defense 54-37 at Willowbrook High School.
Neuqua (21-1) has beaten ranked opponents Metea Valley, Wheaton Warrenville South and now Fremd in January, and it gets another shot to prove itself Wednesday at Trinity.
“Trinity’s going to be another good test,” Williams said. “But our kids, you look in their eyes and nothing bothers them. Sooner or later somebody’s going to believe that we’re pretty (darn) good.”
Neuqua had eight players score Saturday, led by 14 points apiece from Najee Smith and Allison Hedrick.
But really, any conversation about the Wildcats usually starts with their defense.
Trailing 21-20 midway through the second quarter, Neuqua held Fremd scoreless for a stretch of 8 minutes, 37 seconds into the third quarter. Hedrick’s up and under move made it 32-21 to cap a 12-0 run, and Fremd never drew closer than 8.
McConnell and Gorecki each scored 13 for Fremd (19-6), but Neuqua didn’t make things easy on the Vikings’ two potentially future Division I guards.
“We studied film and we saw that they don’t have much of an inside game as they do an outside game. We pretty much took their shooters away all game,” Hedrick said. “In practice we run all the time. We never get tired. I think other teams that we play get worn down, and it’s because of our defense.”
Fremd’s scoring drought was unfortunately a theme this week.
On Monday the Vikings endured a nearly nine-minute scoreless stretch in a loss to Loyola.
“We had another one of those droughts where we couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Fremd coach Dave Yates said. “We have to fix that. We have to play better to beat a team of that caliber. I don’t think we played to our potential. We had shots, but we couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”
Fremd has faced its share of good defensive teams, from Montini to Palatine. Few teams keep running fresh bodies at teams with pressure like Neuqua.
“I think their pressure got to us,” Yates said. “What they do is they’re constantly running new kids at the ball. It gets you out of rhythm and makes you make quick decisions. You have to make them pay for that pressure.”
Neuqua’s defense was good, but its offense was likewise as crisp as could be.
The Wildcats only turned the ball over 11 times, and hit four 3-pointers with Najee Smith knocking down 3 of them, Lauren Deveikis 1 and Niki Lazar 1. Ball movement was good, and Hedrick and Bryce Menendez were equal beneficiaries inside, Menendez scoring 8 points with 9 rebounds.
“We knew (Fremd) played a sagging defense,” Hedrick said. “We got the ball into the middle, then kicked it out to our shooters. Lauren was on, Najee was on, it was great to see all our shooters on.”
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