Norkus, Neuqua Valley pick up the pace in second half to defeat Naperville Central

Neuqua Valley's Kylee Norkus was not thrilled with her play in the first half Thursday night at Naperville Central, so she picked things up a notch.

The four-year varsity player helped spark a big Wildcats third quarter and then kept it up in the fourth quarter. The visiting Wildcats broke from a 27-27 halftime draw to prevail 65-47 and improve to 2-0 in the DuPage Valley Conference and 6-4 overall. Norkus tallied 11 of her team-high 17 points in the second half and added 8 rebounds and 4 steals.

"I had a chip on my shoulder at halftime," the 5-foot-10 guard said. "I was not going to let this game slip away with a loss. I knew I had to contribute more in the second half. It was my time to shine and help this team out."

Neuqua Valley came to Naperville Central expecting a win against a Redhawks squad that has been hit hard by injuries and transfers. But the visitors also expected the hosts to put up their usual fight.

"Central's getting better. Obviously they got hit by losing some players," Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. "It's hard to replace that, but they play hard and he's a good coach (Andy Nussbaum). He's been doing this a long time."

Sophomore Erin Hackett knocked down a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter as the Redhawks took a 15-11 lead. Hackett finished with a game-high 21 points and five 3s, but the Wildcats had too many weapons at their disposal and eventually pulled away.

Norkus and fellow veterans Caitlin Washington (15 points) and Zoe Navarro played well on Thursday, while sophomore Nalia Clifford added 9 points on three 3s. The Wildcats defense pressured the home team into at least 5 turnovers each quarter, converting many of the take-aways into points.

"Our intensity definitely picked up after halftime," Norkus said. "Being tied gave us momentum. It should not have been tied. When we got those steals and had the right mindset, we filled in the rough patches that we had in the first quarter and we just kept up with the fastbreaks. Our shots were dropping and we were playing really good team basketball."

The Redhawks (2-7, 0-2) did their best to hang with Neuqua Valley, but the young team trailed 50-41 after three quarters and then lost a pair of starters to fouls in the fourth quarter.

"I thought we had a real solid first half and then actually even in the third quarter we cut it back to like 7 and then they got like 10 in a row," Nussbaum said. "But we're getting better. We just have to get better a little faster. I thought our first half might have been our best first half of the year, and that's a very good team.

"We're young, but I'm pleased with our progress, and we're still disappointed we're not winning. Those are two things that are hard to say at the same time. But I think we're getting better."

Navarro noted that her team's depth played a key role in the win.

"They're always going to be athletic and skilled," she said of Thursday's opponent. "Sometimes we struggle getting off to slow starts. But as long as we get it together, depend on each other and play as a team ... that is the beauty of having the depth. We're able to get some rest for the starters, bring in some players with energy to give us a blow and then we're able to come in and keep that lead."

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