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Neuqua Valley center Pat Kenny is no slouch standing 6-foot-4, but he still gives up 4 inches to standout Riverside-Brookfield big man Miki Ljuboja.
What Kenny lacks in height, he certainly makes up for with hustle around the basket. Kenny's hard-nosed play and the Wildcats' steady game executing the fundamentals led the way to a 72-55 victory over the Bulldogs in the second round of the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Classic boys basketball tournament on Wednesday in Riverside.
Kenny powered in a game-high 20 points, including 12 in the first half when he also held to Ljuboja to only 2 points in the paint. He was a machine on the offensive and defensive glass. During a stretch of 11 unanswered points early in the first quarter, the senior put back a pair of offensive misses, including a three-point play.
"No. 55 (Kenny) just killed us in the first half," said R-B coach Tom McCloskey.
"It was a nice start by Pat," added Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton. "He really carried us early and went right at their big guy. He completely outplayed him in the first half."
The Wildcats (2-0) rotated the ball well around on offense, and Sutton thought the play on the defensive glass limiting the Bulldogs' second-chance points was key to surge to a 42-27 lead at halftime. Guards Brad Mikulecky, Jabari Sandifer, Brad Boudreau and Connor Raridon made some big shots as well. Sandifer finished with 14 points, and Mikulecky added 10 points.
"Every game we come up with a focus on defense and rebounding and make sure we box out," Kenny said. "We are not the biggest team so we want to make sure we do the fundamentals right and box out."
In the second half R-B (1-1) made a run behind quick guard Damonta Henry, who tallied a team-high 17 points, and Ljuboja who scored 13 points. The closest the Bulldogs came was within 6 points with 3:19 remaining in the third quarter. They got Kenny in foul trouble, and he went to the bench with 1:43 left in the third quarter with his fourth foul. Kenny came back in midway through the final quarter but fouled out seconds later and Neuqua Valley had to play without him for the final 3:57.
Sandifer stood out down the stretch. The Western Illinois-bound senior scored from his left hand on a nifty drive to the hoop, stole a ball, beat the press with some dribbling moves and made a couple of clutch free throws. Raridon also nailed a pair of big free throws with 1:04 to play.
"We got to them in the fourth quarter and finished the game even though we did not play as good as the first half," Sandifer said. "We kept our composure."
"Jabari is our best player," Sutton said. "He is a great point guard, dribbler and passer. He is our floor general. Everything goes through him. We ask a lot of whole lot of him and he delivers."