Libertyville lights up Lake Zurich to take NSC crown

Poor lockers.

Libertyville's girls basketball team pounded the defenseless, metallic bins - to get fired up, not out of anger - at halftime of the Wildcats' North Suburban Conference showdown with visiting Lake Zurich Tuesday night.

"The theme of our coach's (Greg Pedersen's) halftime talk was 'energy,' " Libertyville junior guard/forward Maddy Kopala said. "We had to come out and make stops, then turn it on with fluid offense.

"We banged our lockers in there, pretended it was a 0-0 game (Libertyville was up, 17-12) and put together a stampede at the start of the second half."

Libertyville hit something else after the break: shots.

Lots of shots.

The hosts struck for the first 7 points of the second half and outscored the Bears 21-4 in the third quarter, en route to an emphatic 45-19 win that clinched at least a share of the NSC title - Libertyville's fourth in five seasons.

Libertyville improved to 23-4 overall, 12-1 in the NSC, with one conference game left (next week vs. Mundelein); LZ slipped to 20-7, 10-2, with a pair of NSC games (vs Waukegan and Lake Forest) remaining.

The triumph avenged a 42-34 loss at Lake Zurich Jan. 11.

Pedersen received balanced scoring from his crew Tuesday night. Maryland-bound Emily Fisher netted a game-best 12 points (including 2 3-pointers), and Kopala and junior guard Rachel Rule tallied 9 apiece. Wildcats junior guard Kate Rule (2 treys) poured in all 8 of her points in the first 8 minutes.

Reserve freshman guard Sophia Swanson contributed 5 fourth-quarter points.

"We gave up too many easy baskets in the second quarter," said Pedersen, whose club led 12-4 after one frame. "We weren't putting enough defensive pressure along the perimeter. But Kate and Rachel set such a great tone, defensively, in the third quarter."

Libertyville, ranked No. 5 in the Daily Herald's Top 20 poll, nailed 5 of its game total of 9 treys in the pivotal third, 3 off the hands of Kopala. Wildcats junior forward Talya Tillman (team-high 5 rebounds) had only 2 points in the quarter, but her steal preceded a Kopala 3-pointer and her pass less than 2 minutes later resulted in an assist on another Kopala triple.

That second trey widened the lead to 30-14 at the 3:21 mark, forcing LZ coach Chris Bennett to call his second timeout in exactly 2 minutes.

"Libertyville is a great team, very deserving of the NSC championship," said Bennett, whose ninth-ranked Bears - 17-3 on Jan. 14, after a 54-50 defeat of Glenbrook South - have not been at full strength because of injuries in the last couple of weeks. "Emily Fisher is having a heck of a run, but there's more to that team than her. They have shooters, everywhere. Excellent shooters.

"They took it to us in the third quarter."

Indeed. Libertyville established a 38-16 advantage after 24 minutes.

LZ junior forward Anna Gilbertson (8 points, game-high 11 rebounds) kept the Bears in it in the second quarter, scoring 6 of her squad's 8 points as Libertyville managed only 5 points.

The 6-foot Gilbertson came down with 6 of her boards - 3 of the offensive variety - in the second quarter. Senior teammate Brooke Wahlund finished with 5 rebounds.

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