Willowbrook coach Terry Harrell knows his team learned a lesson or two Tuesday night when visiting Morton stormed back to erase a big lead late.
But he also knows his team grew a little along the way and, oh, by the way, still came away with a key 76-71 West Suburban Gold victory over the much-improved Mustangs.
The Warriors (8-2, 4-0), who led 39-34 at the half and by as many as 14 points in the third quarter, seemed in control for most of the game before the Mustangs (6-4, 2-2) charged back to draw even at 68-68 with 1:37 left to play.
Morton's Isza Gonzalez led her team's wild comeback and finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, but the Warriors regrouped and prevailed after some clutch free-throw shooting in the final minutes.
"They played hard as heck," Harrell said. "Morton is much improved over last year. But one thing I'm happy with is after all that our girls just responded and did what we had to do."
Allowing 71 points instead of the team's goal of 40 or less means it was not a great night, but a conference win is a conference win.
"Sometimes you lose a game and you learn a lesson," Harrell said. "I would much rather have an ugly game and win and still learn a lesson, especially in a conference game."
Anita Sterling helped ensure the victory with 23 points and 9 rebounds, including a 4-for-5 effort from the foul line late to secure the win. But she was not alone, as Molly Krawczykowski added 19 points and several Willowbrook players made key contributions.
"We were in control most of the game, and we maintained our composure when it started to get close," Sterling said. "They were making a lot of noise, but we stayed composed."
With Gonzalez earning second chances with offensive boards and also coming away with 6 steals, she and Neriangela Velez helped Morton battle back from a 57-50 deficit early in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 68-68 following a putback by Amanda Kubicki.
But after that Sterling converted a three-point play and added three more late free throws to go with a pair of free throws from Angela Bruno as the hosts held off the Morton charge.
Mustangs coach Craig Madzinski was proud of his team's effort one night after a tough road loss at Oak Lawn.
"It's been outstanding," the Mustangs coach said when asked about his team's growth this season. "There's no quit in them and this was a great basketball game to be involved in. It was just a tough back-to-back with Monday and Tuesday road games."