Vernon Hills didn't dig the 8-point hole it fell into against Streamwood to start Friday's semifinal of the Mundelein Holiday Classic girls basketball tournament.
But the Cougars didn't panic and bury themselves into an inescapable situation. Last year's Class 3A state runner-up clawed back up to leads of 3 points after a quarter and 15 at halftime en route to a convincing 54-28 victory.
And in retrospect, the rough start wasn't the worst thing to happen to the Cougars (17-0) as they advanced to today's 5 p.m. championship game. They'll go for their second win in three days against Cary-Grove (9-5), which won the first semifinal 41-24 over Libertyville.
"We kind of came out a little flat and with Streamwood being really good, it helped us boost our intensity," said Vernon Hills 6-foot junior Lauren Webb, who had 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 assists.
"(Coach Paul) Brettner called the timeout and said, 'Let's go, get it together,'" junior Sydney Smith said after scoring 16 points on 5-for-9 shooting from 3-point range. "There was no looking back."
Brettner called time just 2:42 into the game after Streamwood (14-3), which plays Libertyville at 3:30 p.m. for third place, hit 4 of its first 5 shots. Jessica Cerda (10 points) scored twice and found Brittany Delao for a baseline jumper and Holey Foret also hit a baseline jumper off an assist from Hannah McGlone (6 points, 8 rebounds).
"It was a good choice by Brettner to call the timeout because it settled us down and we settled each other down," Webb said.
"Defensively we're supposed to be better than getting down 8-0," Brettner said. "It's a credit to the kids they were able to turn it around. They've played enough together that all it takes is to say, 'Come on guys.'
"I didn't want Streamwood to get on a hot streak because (Cerda and McGlone) can fill it up and (Deja Moore) can do a lot of things."
Smith quickly got Vernon Hills back on track with consecutive 3s. Brie Bahlmann's driving baseline jumper started a 15-point run to a 21-10 lead and 6-2 Meri Bennett-Swanson (8 points, 6 rebounds) found Alina Lehocky for a layup and hit a jump hook to make it 27-12 at intermission.
"They aren't undefeated for no reason," said Streamwood coach George Rosner. "They have a good inside-outside combination and we had no real answer for (Smith). To me she was the difference.
"Her shots got them back in the game. I thought we had a chance to really open up the game early, but two defensive mistakes cost us from a nice run at the beginning."
Streamwood ended up shooting 27 percent from the field (13-for-48) and missed all 11 of its 3s a day after beating Conant in double overtime. Cerda was 5-for-20 from the field and McGlone was 3-for-9 after playing all 40 minutes Thursday.
Vernon Hills shot 52.2 percent (23-for-44), made half of its 12 attempts behind the arc and finished with a 34-19 rebound advantage. Now it will try to win its first Mundelein tourney title.
"This ended up being our best game," Smith said. "It's our first time in the championship game so that's huge."