Jason Nichols has never won a game at the McDonald's Shootout, and there's a good reason for that.
He always asks to play the best team available. His Montini teams more often than not get it.
This year is no different.
In the finale of the three-day, 32-team event at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nichols' Broncos will play Whitney Young in a marquee matchup featuring the state's defending Class 3A and Class 4A champions.
"We've never asked to play somebody we know we're going to beat. We want the best," Nichols said. "Every year we've been there we've had great crowds, and I'm anticipating another one."
Montini is one of eight teams from DuPage County at the 23rd annual McDonald's Shootout this Friday, Saturday and Monday at Willowbrook High School.
Montini (22-1) lost to Whitney Young 64-56 at last year's shootout but didn't lose again on its way to winning its third straight Class 3A title.
This Broncos team, led by juniors Kateri Stone and Kelly Karlis and senior Malayna Johnson, has won nine straight since a loss to Peoria Richwoods, highlighted by wins on consecutive nights over then-unbeatens Plainfield East and Rolling Meadows.
Whitney Young (15-3) is undefeated against in-state teams this year, two of its losses over Christmas at the Naples Shootout in Florida.
The Dolphins are led by Kentucky recruit Linnae Harper, a senior guard ranked No. 5 nationally in the Class of 2013 by ESPNHoopGurlz. Khaalia Hillsman, a 6-foot-5 junior, adds to the Dolphins' big, quick lineup.
"They're athletic and quick and have good size at every position. That's a scary combination," Nichols said. "It should be a supersectional, state semifinal-type game with the matchup and size of the crowds. It should be a great learning experience."
Here are other matchups involving DuPage County teams:
Neuqua Valley vs. Fremd: Perhaps the best matchup on Saturday's slate is the No. 3 Wildcats (20-1) against No. 5 Fremd (15-5). Neuqua, led by Allison Hedrick and Najee Smith, looks to wear teams down and force turnovers with depth and 32 minutes of run-and-jump pressure. Fremd counters with one of the state's best shooters in Ashley McConnell, who went for 38 in a game in December. Fremd got a boost this week with the return of 6-foot sophomore Haley Gorecki from an ankle injury.
Wheaton Warrenville South vs. Hillcrest: No. 4 WW South (17-3), which beat New Trier last year at Willowbrook, draws another tough matchup here. Hillcrest (14-4) graduated some key players off a team that went to Class 3A state semifinals the last three years but still has a good player in Dana Gettis. The 5-foot-9 senior guard committed to Robert Morris is averaging just less than 20 points per game and scored 35 and 37 against Rich South and Bloom, respectively. "She'll put up 30 if you're not careful," WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. "We are going to have to make great decisions because they're athletic, long and quick. If we play our game we can handle it. If we try to play their game we could be in trouble."
The Meghan Waldron-led Tigers have won 16 of their last 17 and could get a further boost with the return from a torn meniscus of Diamond Thompson, cleared for contact earlier this week.
Metea Valley vs. Morgan Park: No. 10 Metea (18-4) makes its first shootout appearance and will be put to the test. Morgan Park (14-2) in December handed Bolingbrook its first loss to an Illinois team other than Whitney Young since 2007. Senior guard Kierra Graves is averaging 20 points, junior guard Shami Goodman 15.2. Metea must control pace and get the ball to Lori Obendorf, averaging 14.2 points and 10.5 rebounds with 12 double-doubles.
Benet vs. Vernon Hills: No. 19 Benet (12-7), which blew out Waubonsie Valley last year at Willowbrook, takes aim this time at the defending Class 3A runner-up Cougars. No. 7 Vernon Hills (18-2) started its season 18-0 before losses to Stevenson and Trinity. Meri Bennett-Swanson, a 6-2 senior committed to DePaul, is a tough matchup for a Benet team whose tallest starter is 5-11. St. Louis-bound senior Christen Prasse, averaging 15.2 points, makes a young Benet team go.
Willowbrook vs. Plainfield North: The 16th-ranked Warriors (16-3), with their best team in years, are rewarded with a more attractive Monday time slot. Anita Sterling, averaging 12.4 points, leads a nice group of guards further boosted with the return this week of Colleen Krawczykowski. Plainfield North counters with senior guard Carlie Corrigan, who scored 43 in an overtime loss to Plainfield East earlier this year.
Wheaton North vs. Maine West: The No. 11 Falcons (13-6) draw a familiar opponent to the shootout in Maine West (6-12) and Hall of Fame coach Derril Kipp. Wheaton North will want to set a fast pace and get good looks for Mandy Traversa, averaging 15.2 points with 61 3-pointers.
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