Waubonsie Valley tops Lake Zurich for Hinkle crown

Waubonsie Valley was finally forced to go the 32-minute distance by Lake Zurich in the Hinkle Holiday Championship game Thursday night.

But that didn't bother the Warriors as they scored the first 9 points and used a couple of big, quick bursts to answer every challenge and hold off the Bears 49-37 at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.

"Each time we enter a tournament our ultimate goal is to come out successful and win it all," said 6-foot-5 senior all-tourney pick Tre Blissett after he scored a game-high 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting. "We love the feeling of winning. There's nothing better than winning."

Top-seeded Waubonsie (13-0), which claimed its other Hinkle title in 2019, also got 8 points apiece from junior all-tourney picks Tyreek Coleman (5 assists) and Moses Wilson (5 rebounds). But second-seeded Lake Zurich (11-4) made the Warriors have to work for it after they won their first three tournament games with 30-point margin running clocks in the fourth quarter.

"We battled and they're really good," said LZ coach Terry Coughlin. "A lot of it came down to our start and they can do that to you with their length and athleticism. They can get to you mentally before you've got to deal with it physically."

LZ committed 6 of its 18 turnovers and Coleman had 4 assists for the 9-0 deficit. A 14-2 blitz that took three minutes and featured dunks by Blissett, Coleman and Cade Valek (5 points, 6 rebounds) put the Warriors up 23-6.

But the Bears responded after halftime to get within 27-21 with a 10-2 burst capped by its all-tourney picks. Nick Popovic (10 points) hit a 3 and 6-8 junior Anton Strelnikov (12 points, 8 rebounds) got a layup off a Ryan Carroll feed.

"We knew we came out a little sloppier than we should have but we knew we weren't out of it either," Popovic said. "We knew we could chip away at that."

While Waubonsie has won its 13 games by a 28-point average it has been tested, which included coming back from a 6-point deficit in a 49-45 win over DeKalb.

The Warriors responded with another 14-3 burst that started with Wilson's dunk and ended with Ryan Morton's 3 for a 41-24 lead with 1:26 left in the third.

"We've been here before and we came together as a team and everything just worked itself out," Blissett said.

"I thought it was awesome when they went on the run in the third, we called timeout and the kids responded with a couple of big scores, which was huge," said Waubonsie coach Andrew Schweitzer. "Sometimes you ride the wave and other times it goes against you and you try to turn that tide. We definitely turned the tide in the third quarter."

Another Popovic 3 got LZ within 43-34 with 5:38 left but it couldn't overcome 26.7 percent shooting overall (12-for-45) and 3-for-19 behind the arc to get any closer.

"Overall our team did great and I'm really proud of all my teammates and coaches," Popovic said of the second-place finish.

"It's our first championship experience and hopefully it let us know if we're lucky to play for a regional championship or in a sectional," Coughlin said, "we understand what kind of intensity we have to come out with and what kind of pressure we have to deal with."

And it was also the kind of test Waubonsie needed on a night where it was just 3-for-20 on 3s but got a big-time performance from Blissett, who doesn't have any Division I offers and was called a "special player and special kid" by Schweitzer.

"It's always fun and I love the competition," Blissett said. "Playing all four quarters was great for us."

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