Cary-Grove's girls basketball team understood it received a surprise post-Christmas present.
Because the Mundelein Holiday Classic had only 12 teams this year one team with a loss wound up getting a spot in Friday's semifinals. That turned out to be the Trojans, who dropped their second-round game Thursday to undefeated Vernon Hills.
They displayed how thankful they were for their good fortune by allowing only 14 points in the final three quarters and advancing to the championship game with a 41-24 victory over Libertyville.
"It was definitely a gift, but it gives us a great opportunity to actually prove ourselves that we can keep up with good teams," said Cary-Grove senior Joslyn Nicholson after she had 17 points and 6 rebounds.
The Trojans (9-5) get another shot at one of the best in today's 5 p.m. title game. They'll try to avenge their 44-33 second-round loss against Vernon Hills (17-0), which powered past Streamwood 54-28 in the second semifinal.
"We were a little disappointed (Thursday) because we didn't play as a team, yet we did OK against Vernon Hills," said Cary-Grove coach Rod Saffert. "The message to our team was they gave us a gift by letting us be in the final four and we said, 'What are we going to do with it?' We played awesome the last three quarters."
Libertyville (6-10), which plays Streamwood for third place at 3:30 p.m., shot just 4-for-23 from the field after taking a 10-8 lead when Olivia Mayer beat the first-quarter buzzer from the baseline. Rosie Lynch had a team-high 7 points and Haley Hoeksel added 6 points.
"On the defensive end we just talked like mad," Nicholson said.
"They're a talented team with a bunch of good athletes," said Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen. "We'll compete hard and go after it but we weren't ready for that yet. They've got two of the best players we've seen this year."
Nicholson and senior Olivia Jakubicek (14 points, 12 rebounds) scored Cary's first 19 points as it built a 31-18 lead with 7:36 left. But Saffert and Nicholson didn't see it as a two-player show.
"We played well together," Saffert said after Cary outrebounded Libertyville 29-20.
"We definitely worked the ball the way we should have worked it," Nicholson said. "We knew today we needed to pick up our play as a team and not play as individuals."