Whatever went down in Wheaton North’s practice Monday, it’s working.
Playing some of their best, most physical defense of the year, the No. 11 Falcons manhandled Maine West 53-29 on Saturday at the 23rd McDonald’s Shootout at Willowbrook High School.
Wheaton North (15-6) shut down Maine West (7-13) in the first half, and the 29 points were the fewest the Falcons have surrendered this season.
“We came out and got after them,” said Falcons senior point guard Reilly Stewart, who scored 14 points. “We turned defense into offense.”
Wheaton North has been able to win for much of the season by simply outscoring teams. Defense, a calling card for the Falcons under coach Dave Eaton, hasn’t been a particular strength, giving up more than 50 points a game. It might have hit rock bottom last week, giving up 79 in a loss to Metea Valley and 57 in a bad loss to Wheaton Warrenville South.
Wheaton North found its answers in practice Monday. Not one basketball was shot in a defensive, drill-intensive workout.
“I think for most of the season we thought we could beat teams by outscoring them and we got away from doing what we want to do defensively,” Eaton said. “We had to buy in on defense again and refocus. We’ve had back-to-back very good games defensively this week.”
“We’re forgetting about last week,” Stewart said. “There was a lot of energy in practice Monday. It was fun.”
Mandy Traversa, in somewhat of a shooting slump of late after a red-hot December, missed her first 7 shots Saturday and scored 8 points. Eaton, though, was effusive in praising the senior’s work defensively.
“Mandy’s picked it up the last two games. She’s completely flipped the switch defensively,” said Eaton, noting Traversa’s handful of steals Saturday. “To see Mandy come out and play defense the way she has, that adds a completely new dimension to our team.”
Neither team scored in the game’s first four minutes Saturday before Chrissy Baird broke through with a basket off an inbounds play. It was 8-0 at the quarter, and 25-13 at half, and Wheaton North blew it open with separate runs of 9-2 and 10-0 in the second half.
Baird, giving away a couple inches to Maine West’s post, had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“Chrissy’s really been playing well for us,” Eaton said. “She’s been rotating well on defense and offensively she’s been very consistent.”
Maine West didn’t score until Brittany Collins rolled in a turnaround jumper two minutes into the second quarter. Hall of Fame Warriors coach Derril Kipp was blunt in assessing how his team responded to Wheaton North’s physicality.
“When their kids play harder than we do, we don’t have a chance,” Kipp said. “We just didn’t run our offense and we were kind of intimidated by how hard they play. When teams step up and are physical with us, our kids back down.”
Collins and Alexia Prosperi each scored 10 points for Maine West, which had scored 53 points the night before in a 17-point win over Deerfield. Different game, different opponent, different gym.
“In this tournament, in this gym, they’re going to let teams play,” Kipp said. “It was much more physical than last night’s game.”
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