If there was a team in dire need of a good weekend, it was St. Charles East.
The schedule makers didn't do the Saints any favors this year. Not only did they open Upstate Eight Conference River Division play with three straight road games, those three were against perhaps the three toughest opponents -- Larkin, St. Charles North and Geneva.
Couple that with an injury-depleted roster to open the year, and the Saints knew they needed to turn things around.
Following a 61-57 win at Geneva and an 84-52 victory over Streamwood last Friday and Saturday, that's just what the Saints did to even their overall and conference records at 4-4 and 2-2.
"We got thrown into this conference race so early with my opinion the three toughest teams on the road," Saints coach Patrick Woods said. "We're still trying to find our way."
After losses to Larkin and the North Stars, Woods looked at Friday's game at Geneva as a must-win.
"It was a do-or-die win to keep us in the race," Woods said. "We still want that as a goal. I don't think it's unreasonable. There's no one who is going to go through this conference undefeated in my opinion. It's going to be a dogfight."
Batavia nearly proved Woods correct the following night, but the Bulldogs couldn't hold onto a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter and lost 69-65 to Larkin. Geneva gets its crack at handing the league-leading Royals their first loss Friday.
Injury update: Speaking of those Saints injuries, Woods is hopeful to get senior big man David Mason back this week.
Junior guard Zach Manibog was one of the banged-up players who missed the start of the season with a groin strain. He made his first two starts this past weekend and delivered two early 3-pointers against the Vikings and three more quick 3s against the Sabres.
"He's been in competitive situations and knows how to handle himself in big-time environments," Woods said of Manibog's background with the Saints' conference champion soccer team.
A third injured Saint, Cole Gentry, dazzled against the Vikings even though Woods said the guard is still only 85 percent dealing with a back injury.
"I know he's got another level," Woods said.
Defensive stopper: Saints senior forward AJ Washington earned praise for guarding Geneva star Nate Navigato.
Navigato scored a team-high 18 points. All of those were in the second half after Washington held Navigato scoreless in the opening half.
"AJ is a phenomenal athlete and a smart kid," Woods said. "He plays hard. He's played against a lot of great competition the last two years. He's a senior now and he's been stepping up in a lot of ways. Tonight we needed his defense. That was his sole focus. He did the job."
Strategy session: In late-game situations when a team leads by 3 points, there's differing schools of thought on whether the defense should foul and not allow the opponent to take a potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Gentry did that with 4.7 seconds left against Geneva. The strategy worked, though not until the Vikings were called for an offensive foul after getting the ball back after intentionally missing the second free throw.
Afterward, Woods said his philosophy is not to foul in those situations.
"He (Gentry) did that on his own and I'm not sure," Woods said. "I would have played it out."
More Big Ten bloodlines: For the first time in four years, Kendall Stephens is no longer at St. Charles East. He's now at Purdue playing at the same school his father Everette did.
But there's another area player still putting up big numbers whose dad also played college basketball in the Big Ten.
Aurora Christian junior Wes Wolfe is the son of Todd Wolfe, the captain of Michigan State's 1989 team who played in two Sweet 16s with the Spartans. He went to Michigan State after playing at Prospect High School.
Wes Wolfe is a starting guard with the Eagles and the second-leading scorer on the team through six games.
"He's really been my figure I look up to to try to get better and more like him every day," Wes said of his father.
"I've been working a lot on my shooting and taking the ball to the basket a lot. It's really been showing in my game."
Deep bench: St. Charles North has 19 players on its varsity roster, the most coach Tom Poulin has ever kept.
"Everyone says we have too many people," Poulin said. "We have the right guys. You are just looking for the right guys whether that is 12 or 14. I've never had more than 17 and I said I'd never do that again. Here we are.
"They are great kids. They push each other and they pull for each other. Our practices are great. They are thinking about the team. And that's why they are on the team because we have 19 guys who are that way."
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