A Wheeling varsity basketball program heading in the right direction hit a speed bump Saturday night.
A big speed bump.
The Wildcats ran into the defensive machine known at Notre Dame in the consolation finals of their Wildcat Hardwood Classic and, trailing throughout, dropped a 57-44 decision on the last night of the tournament.
"They did what a lot of teams look to do against us," said Wheeling coach Anthony Como.
Which is, basically, control the boards and try to deny sharpshooter Jeremy Stephani his looks.
And Notre Dame got the job done. With big sophomore Ammar Becar (18 points, 13 rebounds) dominating around the basket on both ends and the Dons (6-7) regularly rotating quick, long-armed players in Stephani's face, the tone was set early and maintained throughout.
In the second half, after Becar continued to impress inside and Pat Dillon (10 points) complemented him from the perimeter, it was rare for Wheeling to get the lead down to single digits.
While the Cats (6-7) couldn't keep Becar off the boards, the Dons managed to keep Stephani off the scoreboard. He shot 3-of-15 from the floor, including 0-4 from 3-point range, where he usually lights it up.
"We knew how good he was," said Notre Dame coach Tom Les, who played 9 underclassmen out of his first 11 on the floor. Joe Mooney, Donte Washington and Lucas Simon took turns hounding Stephani, who got his first field goal at the 6:07 mark of the second quarter on his way to finishing with 12 points.
Other Wildcats did pick up the slack. Point guard Chris Pierro had 8 points, all in the second half, on 4-of-6 shooting and Nate Laude connected three times from beyond the arc en route to 11 points. But after a Dillon 3 made it 41-31 late in the third, Wheeling never got the lead below 10 again.
So, even though Como and his players knew what to expect, Notre Dame had other ideas.
"We didn't respond," said Como.
The coach says his team will work hard on those two aspects of the game before taking on Glenbrook North in their first game back after the New Year.