After posting a 39-29 victory over Maine East, St. Viator girls basketball coach Paul Bjerkness praised his team's defensive effort on Friday night.
"It was another incredible effort," he said.
For about 28 minutes.
That's because the Lions hardly had to play defense for the final four minutes.
St. Viator held the ball against Maine East nearly the entire time due to the Blue Demons refusal to exit their zone defense despite trailing 37-27.
No, Maine East coach Karol Hanusiak wasn't purposely conceding the game to the four-time tourney defending champs in their own Cahill Gymnasium.
She just wanted to see her team gain the final four of the 29th annual Snowflake Tournament in Arlington Heights.
Maine East, Northside Prep and Elmwood Park all finished with 1-2 records in four-team pool play of the eight-team event.
Hanusiak knew the tiebreaker was fewest points given up and prior to the game she was informed her team had to hold St. Viator to 40 points to earn that distinction by 1 point over Northside Prep.
"Of course, we would have liked to get there (final four) by winning," Hanusiak said. "But it is what it is. We'll take it.
"At halftime (trailing 26-17), I told our girls our No. 1 goal was to win the game. Our No. 2 goal was that if we weren't going to win, we had to hold them to 40 points."
So after senior Morgan Hess made a steal with 3:40 left in the final period, the Lions were greeted in the frontcourt by Maine East's zone defense.
Sophomore guard Erin Fabbri just stood out top dribbling the ball for nearly two minutes before Bjerkness called a timeout near the one-minute mark and put in his reserves.
They managed to sneak in for a shot and Maine East came up with the rebound. Sophomore Jazlene Gonzales scored a layup with 21.4 seconds left.
Viator came back down the floor and with three seconds left Samy Stanley hit a short jumper to make it 39-29.
"I had no idea what was going on (with Maine East staying in its zone)," said Morgan Hess.
Maine East (2-10, 1-2) will play Glenbrook North (3-0 in the tourney) at 6 p.m. on Monday while the Lions (9-4, 2-1) face Guerin Prep (2-1 in the tourney) at 7:30 p.m.
Guard Katie Gavin led St. Viator with 8 points, followed by forward Lauren Rooney (7), Mallory Hess (6) and Morgan Hess (6).
"Coach told us to move the ball around the perimeter so we could get some post action," Morgan Hess added. "We wanted to draw their defense out high."
"We just worked together and didn't give up when they made runs at us," added Rooney, who pulled down 11 rebounds. "It was a very physical game and they are very scrappy so we had to keep our heads in the game. We just wanted to get some momentum for our games Monday and Tuesday."
Bjerkness praised the inside work of Rooney and forward Mary Cleary.
"And I thought Morgan Hess did a fantastic job," he said. "Mallory Hess made some real nice decisions on offense.
"The kids just did a great job collectively. On any given night, you don't know who is going to step up with these girls. And we get some big contributions from the bench."
Kristen Georgopoulos led Maine East with 7 points while Laura Lherisson added 6.
"It would have been great to win," Lherisson said. "But at the end of the day, getting in the top four is what we wanted."
Hanusiak would have liked to have seen more offensive production from her team.
"We had no offense," she said. "And St. Viator played good defense.
"Until we learn to get our emotions in check, we won't go very far. We didn't have a terrible basketball game, but it wasn't a good one."
Guerin Prep 39, Leyden 24: Junior guards Crystal Nguyen (9 points) and Victoria Galizia (8) were top scorers for Leyden (0-13, 0-3) in the Snowflake at St. Viator.
The Eagles led 13-10 after a quarter and trailed 23-20 at the break.
"We are finally putting things together in the first half," said Eagles coach Michele Szatko. "We have been more competitive and staying in the game. But when teams put pressure on us in the second half, we are not making good decisions with the ball."
Nguyen had 9 of the Eagles points in the first quarter with 3 3-pointers.
"Crystal stepped up and has been doing a great job on the offensive end," Szatko said. "Jeanine Hannoun is doing a nice job on the defensive end. She's getting rebounds, taking charges and giving us a nice spark.
"It's just a matter of putting together four quarters. That's the key for us. We have been competitive our last five games."
Niles West 52, Barrington 42: Notre Dame recruit Jewell Loyd struck for a game-high 42 points for the Wolves in the Suburban Holiday Showcase.
"We gave up too many open looks to her," said Barrington coach Babbi Barreiro.
The Fillies (5-8), who were led by senior Nicole Collin's 13 points, led by 5 points in the third quarter.
"It was a nice solid effort," Barreiro said. "But then we kind of fell apart."