By John Leusch
Wheeling (15-18) vs. Loyola (25-7)
When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
Where: Stevenson High School, Lincolnshire
How they got here: No. 4 Loyola won the New Trier sectional by beating No. 13 Maine East 76-26, No. 6 Evanston 46-31, No. 1 Maine South 42-25 and No. 2 Glenbrook South 31-26.
No. 14 Wheeling won the Palatine sectional by beating. No. 19 Round Lake 50-14, No. 3 Libertyville 56-51, No. 7 Prospect 58-32, No. 6 Warren 41-26 and No. 8 Zion-Benton 50-45.
Probable starting lineups: Loyola: Lauren Kriz (5-9 Sr.), Michelle Ricolcol (5-8 Sr.), Colleen McShane (5-3 Sr.), Kathleen Stralka (5-10 Sr.), Anna Schueler (5-7 Jr.); Wheeling: Deanna Kuzmanic (5-8 Fr.), Hailey Dammeier (5-7 Fr.), Kellie Kuzmanic (5-10 Sr.), Jessi Zuba (5-10 Jr.), Leah Malsom (6-0 Sr.)
Outlook: Wheeling has become the seventh Mid-Suburban League team in the last eight years to reach a supersectional and the most unlikely after a 1-14 start. The Wildcats are trying to become the first team in state history to reach the final four with a losing record. Their No. 14 seed had them participating in a play-in game in the Libertyville regional. But once they got there, they never looked back. The surging Wildcats have won nine of their last 10 games, including more games (5) than any team in the state tourney because of the play-in triumph over Round Lake. In Thursday's dramatic 50-45 triumph over Zion-Benton for the sectional crown, the Kuzmanic sisters played like there was no tomorrow in the second half. Deanna (20 points) and Kellie (14) scored Wheeling's final 23 points as the Wildcats rallied from a 45-42 deficit with 3:40, closing the game with an 8-0 run. "I think we need to carry over what we've been doing -- staying focused and being in control," said Wheeling second-year coach Julissa Hernandez. "We've done that the last several games and we must stick to the same game plan." Each player Hernandez has put on the floor at crucial times is playing her role. Jessi Zuba hit huge back-to-back 3-pointers in the first quarter against Zion and Hailey Dammeier had a big bucket in the third quarter to tie the game at 25-25. Reserves Dee Hanna, Hannah Dobrowski and Brie Majkowski have contributed with solid minutes. Malsom scored a season-high 20 points against Prospect in the regional final and Deanna Kuzmanic's 20 points on Thursday were 1 shy of her career-high against Maine South. Kellie Kuzmanic's season-high is 24 points in a 60-45 win over Prospect. The Wildcats made 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 had 4 assists for Carthage on Friday night in a 70-64 semifinal win over Wheaton in the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin conference tourney. Loyola, which was seeded fourth in the New Trier sectional, won its first sectional championship since 2006. Their last time in the state finals was 1999. Coach Jeremy Schoenecker (94-30 in four years) starts four seniors and a junior. Schueler leads the team with 12.5 points a game while Kriz and Stralka average 7 rebounds. Schueler led Loyola with 13 points and Kriz added 12 when the Ramblers defeated Mid-Suburban West champ Fremd 53-42 in Wilmette on Jan. 16. Schoenecker is obviously impressed by Wheeling's road to the supersectional. "What a great story," he said. "A 14th seed in the supersectional and they've beaten some tough teams to get here. Obviously they are doing a great job, and it's happening at the right time. It's fun to see." Defense has been the key for the Ramblers, who have held all their state tourney opponents in the 20s except for Evanston's 31 in the regional final. "Offensively, we are still struggling to put the ball in the basket but defense has really kept us in the games," Schoenecker said. The same can be said for the Wildcats. "Defense is our whole philosophy," Hernandez said. "Their philosophy is defense, too. So it's definitely going to be a good defensive game. It will come down to who's ready to play offensively."
Advancement: Friday's 8:15 p.m. state semifinal at Illinois State's Redbird Arena vs. the winner of the Illinois Wesleyan supersectional between Marist (32-1) and Edwardsville (32-1).