Scouting girls basketball 4A sectionals / Northwest
What: Palatine Class 4A sectional championship
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Who: No. 14 Wheeling (14-18) vs. No. 8 Zion-Benton (21-8)
Outlook: Can Wheeling's improbable run as the No. 14 seed continue? The Wildcats have won eight of their last nine, including more games than anyone in the state tournament (4). That's because they had to win a play-in game (50-14 over Round Lake) just to get into the Libertyville regional semifinals. Since then, they have got past No. 3 Libertyville (56-51), No. 7 Prospect (58-32) and No. 6 Warren (41-26). "After starting 1-14, we're obviously peaking at the right time," said Wildcats second-year coach Julissa Hernandez. "But the girls stuck together. It's easy to say 'I can't wait until the season is over,' hang your head and stop working toward your goals. But I think those hardships we went through helped make us mentally and physically prepared. We started playing to win. We're not playing not to lose." One key loss for a good stretch of the early season was freshman point guard Deanna Kuzmanic, who injured her ankle in a loss to Barrington in the Wildcats' seventh game of the season. She started getting back to 100 percent by the new year. Deanna runs the show for the Wildcats, who are led by seniors Kellie Kuzmanic and Leah Malsom. "We just got tired of the losses and needed a new mentality," Deanna Kuzmanic said. "A lot of the losses were because we were beating ourselves." Kellie Kuzmanic collected 13 points and 9 rebounds in the Wildcats' win over Warren in Monday's semifinal. Malsom scored a season-high 20 points against Prospect in the regional final. Zion-Benton features Illinois State-bound Octavia Crump, who scored a career-high 26 points (and 14 rebounds) in the Zee-Bees' 66-49 win over top-seeded Fremd in the Hersey regional final. The 6-foot senior forward had a game-high 20 points on Monday when Zion defeated No. 4 Stevenson 53-46. Zee-Bees coach Tanya Johnson claimed Class AA state crowns with Loyola in 1997 and 1998. Last year, the hall of fame coach guided Zion-Benton to second the Class 4A tourney. Wheeling is trying to become the ninth straight MSL team to advance to a supersectional. The last big-school team to make it to this round of 16 with a losing record is Stevenson in 1997. The Wildcats are making their ninth appearance in a sectional, and first since 2009 when they finished third in the state under coach Shelly Wiegel. That team included the oldest Kuzmanic sister, Stephanie, who is now a sophomore guard for Carthage College in Kenosha.
Advancement: Stevenson supersectional vs. the winner of the New Trier sectional championship (Glenbrook South vs. Loyola) on Monday, Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m.