A lesson learned previously was crucial to West Aurora prevailing 67-59 over Downers Grove South on Wednesday night in a Class 4A Wheaton Warrenville South regional semifinal.
The Blackhawks, seeded fourth in the Bolingbrok sectional, are consistently one of the Daily Herald area's top teams and opponents are hungry for a win over them. So West Aurora knows that when it's game time, especially in the playoffs, they best be prepared.
"We have to be ready to play. We know everyone is coming at West Aurora," said junior Jontrel Walker, who led his team (21-6) with 23 points.
So the Blackhawks were dealing with the aggressive 13th-seeded Mustangs (14-12) and a contest that was tightly officiated with over 30 fouls called and the teams going a combined 27 for 33 from the free-throw line.
What mainly pushed West Aurora to Friday's regional final against the winner of Thursday's semifinal between fifth-seeded Hinsdale Central and 12th-seeded Geneva, was consistency on offense most of the night.
The Blackhawks shot 15 for 31 from the field in the first half and 6 for 10 in the third quarter.
Spencer Thomas' basket with 3:35 left until halftime put West Aurora up 30-20. However, the Mustangs made 4 of 6 free throws with under 2:30 remaining to make it a 32-26 score at intermission.
Downers Grove South returned to the free-throw line to begin the third quarter with four of its first six points coming from that line which pulled the Mustangs to within 34-33.
West Aurora coach Gordie Kerkman said the frequent whistles were a fact of life and his team had to deal with them.
"They were probably all legitimate fouls," Kerkman said. "The problem is they don't call them that close all the time. And they did tonight and you have to adjust. They (West Aurora) had to move their feet and get into position. You get into foul trouble when you don't."
After the Mustangs cut the advantage to one, the Blackhawks built back up a double-digit lead at 44-33 with two baskets each from Jayquan Lee and Matt Williams and two free throws from Walker.
Williams followed Walker in double digits with 13 points off the bench.
"He's done more for us defensively, but he has had some good offense games coming off the bench," Kerkman said.
West Aurora led by as much as 13 in the final quarter. The Mustangs were led by senior Jordan Cannon's 27 points which included a game-high four 3-point baskets.
The Blackhawks will be shooting for its second straight regional title on Friday.
"We adjusted to the max. They were caling everything. But we were able to get into the flow," Walker said.