West Aurora junior point guard Alexis Wiggins lit up Kaneland for 13 first-half points Thursday in Maple Park, sparking the Blackhawks to a 60-43 victory in the season-opener for both teams.
Afterward, it was Wiggins' eyes that lit up talking about what coach Connie Siljendahl called her deepest team yet in eight years at West Aurora.
"We have a lot of fast players," Wiggins said. "This year we are mainly focused on running and gunning, get the ball out, just wearing out teams. I like a fast-paced team."
West Aurora (1-0) started strong, racing to leads of 9-0 and 14-1 while Kaneland coach Ernie Colombe called two timeouts trying to settle his team down.
The Knights (0-1) were missing point guard Caroline Heimerdinger (just cleared from a concussion) and forward Vanessa Gould (illness) in their starting lineup. Wiggins drove for back-to-back baskets to make it 5-0, then capped the 14-1 start with the first of her three 3-pointers.
"I've worked on my shot a lot," Wiggins said. "Everybody was pumped up. It's our first game, I was ready to go."
Kaneland didn't make its first shot until Amber Winquist Bailey's 3-point play with 3:51 left in the first quarter. The Knights sank 6 of 7 free throws to pull within 16-8 after one quarter.
Consecutive baskets from Ally VanBogaert and Brittany Kemp brought Kaneland within 19-14 early in the second quarter, which turned out to be as close as it got. West Aurora took its turn converting at the free-throw line, making 6 of 8 in the second quarter to extend its lead back to 34-22 at halftime.
The Blackhawks got an unusual field goal early in the third quarter when a Kaneland player caught an inbounds pass under West Aurora's basket and scored for the wrong team.
Taylor Jacobsen closed out the third quarter with a drive that beat the buzzer and gave West Aurora a 48-34 lead going to the fourth quarter. The Knights didn't get closer than that the rest of the way.
"We have a lot of senior leadership this year and I think it shows," Siljendahl said. "They are sure of themselves on the court and it makes the younger kids feel safe, that they can make a mistake. I thought the seniors really stepped up."
Wiggins paced both teams with 17 points. She was the only Blackhawk in double figures as 10 players scored including 9 from Jacobsen and 7 from Liz Skaggs. Skaggs also led a West Aurora defense that forced 33 turnovers and had 20 steals with her 6 steals.
"That's our goal this year is to run everybody because we have speed, we have a lot of talent," Siljendahl said, crediting Tony Smith's feeder program for the depth. "We have not had this depth ever."
In addition to all the turnovers, West Aurora also held Kaneland to 36 percent shooting (12 of 33) to more than make up for its own off night (20 of 61, 32.7 percent). Both teams were busy at the line, West Aurora going 15-22 and the Knights 20-32.
"Kind of a weird game," Colombe said. "A lot of stoppages and not a lot of flow to it."
Kaneland also had one double-digit scorer, Winquist Bailey with 11 points including 7-of-7 shooting at the line. Kelly Wallner added 9 points as 11 different Knights scored.
"It was a good game from the standpoint we saw a lot of things we have to work on which you can't simulate in practice," Colombe said. "We'll move on and I think we'll get better."