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Andy Nussbaum knows wins aren't judged for style points.
If he forgot, he was reminded of it Thursday morning by another sage coach.
"I heard (New England Patriots coach Bill) Belichick on the radio today," said the Naperville Central coach, "and he was saying, 'This time of year we'll do whatever we have to do, adjust our game plan to attack a team's strengths, get a win and go on to the next week.' That's kind of the way I felt tonight. It wasn't pretty, but it was a win."
Nussbaum's No. 7 Redhawks, down 1 to visiting Naperville North at the half, tightened up defensively to start the second half and pulled away for a 53-43 win.
Naperville Central (18-3, 4-2 DuPage Valley Conference) went on a 16-6 run over nearly a nine-minute stretch out of the break, turning a 22-21 deficit into a 37-28 lead. A couple Laura Dierking scores started the spurt capped by a Jamie Cuny transition basket with 6:21 left in the game.
"We really came out slow, I don't know if we were asleep or something," said Cuny, who scored 12 of her 19 points in the second half, "but we really picked up our defense in the second half."
The emotion of rivalry games can do funny things to decision-making and that seemed to often be the case Thursday in a choppy contest. Naperville Central made a few questionable decisions late, but unlike its three losses it managed to hold a fourth-quarter lead.
"It seemed like a lot of times tonight somebody would try to make a great play and it wouldn't work," Cuny said. "You have to stay patient."
Cuny, known more for her 3-point shooting, did well in attacking the basket against a smaller opponent.
"If I can't hit my shots from the outside I need to take it to the basket," Cuny said. "I can use my length, especially against this team."
A defensive tweak helped turn the tide in the Redhawks' favor.
At halftime they scrapped their usual man defense for a 1-3-1 trap. Sure enough, the Redhawks forced 11 turnovers in the third quarter and allowed just 4 points, taking a 33-26 lead into the fourth quarter.
"We're better in man-to-man," Nussbaum said, "but we get like, 'We'll trap, pressure and force them to give up the ball.' "
The Redhawks needed to, because Naperville North (9-9, 2-4) dictated a methodical pace early. Naperville Central didn't even score until four minutes in. Zoe Swift scored 10 points in the first half, and Morganne Freeman did well controlling the defensive glass with 7 of her 10 rebounds.
"I was pleased with our first half. We were competitive, right where we needed to be," Huskies coach Jacquie Discipio said. "Basketball is a game of streaks, and I knew they'd come out strong in the second half. I told our girls we just needed to ride the wave. We just had too many turnovers and got too far behind."
Swift finished with 18 points and 6 rebounds and more than once showed her incredible burst to the basket for scores.
"I thought Zoe played out of her mind," Discipio said. "She kept us in it."
Kayla Sharples added 9 points and freshman Laurel Pereira a strong 7 points for the Huskies.
Victoria Trowbridge had 13 points and 10 rebounds, with Dierking, Cierra Stanciel and Shannon Ryan adding 7 apiece. The Redhawks remained two games back of conference co-leaders Wheaton Warrenville South and Wheaton North, who meet Saturday.
"We know we have to win out. As it is, we don't have our fate in our hands," Nussbaum said. "Winning out doesn't guarantee us anything."
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96