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San Diego sunshine. And a 7-footer.
Mundelein's Ryan Sawvell had his share of looking up at both during the Mustangs' annual trip to California over Christmas break.
The latter came in handy for Sawvell on Friday night during Mundelein's entertaining, 82-75 win over visiting Libertyville in the teams' North Suburban Lake Division battle.
Robert Knar scored a game-high 27 points for Mundelein (17-2, 4-1), which won its 11th game in a row.
Few Lake County basketball teams have an answer for the 6-8, 200-pound Sawvell. But one of those teams is Libertyville, which tossed 7-foot, 260-pound Keegan McAullife at Sawvell during stretches.
"I was impressed with his skills, for as big as he is," Sawvell said of Libertyville's backup pivot.
Sawvell was prepared.
"In San Diego we played a kid that was 7 foot 1," Sawvell said. "I thought that kind of helped me out tonight, just knowing that (McAullife) is much bigger and a lot longer than me. I had to just finish up a little bit higher."
Despite McAullife playing limited minutes, he and Sawvell had some good battles in the paint. A second-quarter sequence saw McAullife sink a hook shot over Sawvell and then Sawvell best McAullife with a running hook.
In the third, after the second of back-to-back dunks by Sawvell, McAullife finished an alley-oop layup off a dish from Griffin Pils.
While Sawvell finished with 22 points (3 dunks), 9 rebounds and 4 blocks, McAullife chipped in 6 points, 4 rebounds and a block.
"He's coming along," Libertyville coach Scott Bogumil said of his 7-foot senior. "I wish I had another year with him. He's not completely there, but he makes plays."
Libertyville (7-7, 2-3) welcomed back a player who makes a lot of plays. Senior guard Ryan Barth took the court for the first time since suffering a partial tear of his left meniscus against Lake Zurich exactly one month earlier.
Barth came off the bench and led the Wildcats with 20 points, scoring mostly on drives and in transition, while also grabbing 8 rebounds.
"I told him the other day, 'You're cleared to go. But this could be the worst or best game to come back,' " Bogumil said. "I was worried because (Mundelein) plays fast and I didn't know how he was going to respond."
Barth shook off some rust to score 18 points in the second half.
"I like playing Mundelein a lot," Barth said. "They're always fun games, but I know why (Bogumil) thought it might not be the best game to come back. ... It was great to be back. It was tough to sit there and watch and know that I could have helped."
Mundelein scored the first six points of the second half to extend its lead to 38-29, but Libertyville rallied and went up 45-44 on the second of back-to-back fastbreak layups by Barth.
Mundelein answered the Wildcats' run with a 12-0 burst that included a four-point sequence when Sawvell sank 2 free throws after an intentional foul and Sean O'Brien scored immediately after an inbounds pass from Knar.
"There were a series of runs," said Bogumil, whose Wildcats used a 10-0 run to wipe out a 5-0 deficit and opened a 15-7 lead, only to see Mundelein take a 16-15 edge into the second quarter.
"We took some bad, quick shots. That's been our Achilles' heel. Sometimes we just get a little impatient. Then we got impatient against their press. We know how to break it. We've gone over it. We were panicking, and it snowballed. I give (Mundelein) a lot of credit for that."
Libertyville's Ellis Matthews scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half after changing into his orange high-tops. Luke Mathewson added 11 points (9 of 10 free throws) and 9 rebounds for the Wildcats.
Leavon Head (10 points) also scored in double figures for Mundelein, which saw a late 13-point lead in the fourth cut to four.
"I thought it was a little too close at the end," Sawvell said. "In practice, we work on situations all the time. I think we just to transfer that into the game a little more."