Malonga, Benet edge Whitney Young
Before joining the postgame celebration with her teammates Tuesday, Benet senior girls basketball player Tsimba Malonga needed a brief visit to the training room.
"I got cuts all over my hand so I had to get some Band-Aids and stuff, but other than that I'm good," Malonga said.
After overcoming a knee injury, Malonga and the Redwings are at their healthiest. More important, they're still alive in the Class 4A tournament. Malonga's free throw with 3.7 seconds was the finishing touch to a 66-65 comeback victory over Whitney Young in the Proviso West sectional semifinals.
The No. 2-seeded Redwings (28-4), who play No. 1 Montini (31-2) at 7 p.m. Thursday for the sectional title, fell behind 63-57 with 3:02 left.
"I like those type of moments. It shows what we're actually capable of doing," said Malonga, the University of Denver recruit. "Benet is not a team that gives up and that's what we showed. We're going to keep fighting."
Malonga's whirlwind final minute was a perfect example.
After two clutch free throws by sophomore Brooke Schramek tied the game at 63, freshman Kendall Moriarty's deflection created a steal with about a minute left, but Malonga missed the fast-paced layup.
Malonga then stole the ball herself and converted with 31 seconds left, but the Dolphins' Kyla Jones, who had a game-high 28 points, scored inside with 23.8 seconds left for another deadlock.
Malonga was fouled driving to the basket and made the first 1-and-1 free throw. Malonga missed the second, but Jones could only try an unsuccessful shot from beyond midcourt.
"I missed a layup. I didn't give up," Malonga said. "Coach (Joe Kilbride) always tells me, 'You miss one. Forget about it and move on to the next play,' " Malonga said.
"We got a little rattled maybe, but they came back, kept their composure and they did a nice job of just battling back," Kilbride said.
"It was great for (Malonga). With the knee and some other things, she's just had a little bit of a bumpy road lately. It was kind of nice to see her full spirit today and able to have an impact on the game."
Benet's depth once again was crucial. Junior Lauren Stack had 19 points with two third-quarter 3s, followed by Malonga with 13 points, Schramek 12 and junior Clara Prasse 11. Stack and junior Ashley Konkle each had 7 rebounds.
Stack and Prasse combined for 16 points in the Redwings' 24-point second quarter to open a 35-29 halftime lead.
Benet moved ahead 39-29 but the Dolphins (18-6) supplemented a smaller lineup successful with driving and fast breaks in the first half with two third-quarter 3s and strong post play by 6-foot-3 Cameron Williams.
In the fourth quarter Schramek and Malonga combined for 13 of the Redwings' 15 points. The other 2 came from Moriarty, who began the comeback with two free throws with 2:45 left following her offensive rebound.
"I was so frustrated. I wasn't making anything. They were all in and out and then fourth quarter. I'm like, 'I have to come back for my team, try my best,' " said Schramek, who made two shots and was 4 for 4 on free throws in the fourth quarter.
"I was so happy for (Malonga). She's an unbelievable player and a great person. Just to see her that happy on the court made me really happy."
Instead of using a last-second timeout, Kilbride said he decided to let his players - and Malonga - give it their best shot in the flow of play.
"I prefer to let them play. I let them play until it doesn't look good," Kilbride said. "I trust our kids. A lot of times you overthink it and allow the defense to get organized. I like the idea of coming down and making a play because, quite honestly, the last two minutes we had been making plays."