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NORMAL -- In Jason Nichols' never-ending quest for perfection, that 19-0 start his Montini kids put on Springfield Friday surely even gave him pause.
Good thing they play four quarters in basketball.It didn't take Nichols long in the postgame press conference to remind his kids that yes, you can get better.
"I thought we were outstanding with unbelievable energy early in the game -- and then I don't know where it went," Nichols said. "We kind of relaxed."
Nichols understands the opportunity in front of his kids this weekend.
It is not often that a collection of talent the likes of Montini's comes through a high school. Nichols will be darned if it doesn't maximize its potential.
That is why he constantly keeps on them.
He let them know that those 40-point conference wins in January mean nothing if they are not correcting their flaws.
That's why he heavily scouted some playoff opponents that probably didn't have a snowball's chance of beating his kids.
Why, even when his team was up 20 during the second half of a supersectional game, Nichols, yelled to his kids, "Are we going to stop playing?" when he thought they were lagging.
Opposing fans might sneer at Nichols' attitude as overkill with a hint of arrogance. He calls it his job.
"I look at myself as a teacher on the court," Nichols told me this week. "If you're a teacher, are you going to stop teaching five minutes before the bell rings?"
That demanding style is in Nichols' DNA. I kind of expect him to be the kind of guy who wakes up, sees it's 75 and sunny outside and asks the weather, "are you serious? Is that all you got?"
Montini's seniors know what they're getting from their coach -- "since freshman year," laughed Kiki Wilson, and it's fine by them.
Nichols builds them up plenty behind closed doors, even if it seems he's always on their case in public.
"It's easy to see what he's talking about," Whitney Holloway said. "It's not like we're questioning him. We know he's just looking for ways that we can get better."
On Friday that meant taking care of the basketball better, protecting a lead and not relaxing.
"If we take moments like that off in the championship game," Nichols said, "it won't be a happy ending."
At one point during Friday's game, (probably around the time it was 19-0) I had to ask myself, "Is somebody gonna ever challenge this team?"
Take away Bolingbrook and Montini has made a mockery of the rest of Illinois' ranked teams.
Class 4A No. 2 Edwardsville? Beat 'em by 27. Hononegah? Hung a 32-point loss on them. Former champion Peoria Richwoods? Try a 63-30 beatdown.
I almost wished Montini's kids would sit courtside at the Bolingbrook-Whitney Young 4A semifinal yelling out, "We got next."
In real life Montini must settle for a rematch with Hillcrest.
You can bet Nichols will have his kids prepared to protect what is theirs.
"We're the No. 1 team," Wilson said, "we've been the No. 1 team all season and we want to keep it up."