West Aurora senior Abryia Zeitz grabbed the rebound of the missed game-tying shot in the final seconds Thursday at Glenbard North.
Then she felt somebody else clutching the basketball.
"At first I didn't know. Then I looked and saw that it was (senior teammate Liz Skaggs)," Zeitz said. "We were both telling each other, 'Hold it. We'll just hold it together.' We're just thankful (Glenbard North) missed that shot."
After a sluggish start the Blackhawks found a second gear in the final six minutes and pulled out a 44-42 victory in Carol Stream to remain undefeated in DuPage Valley Conference play.
West Aurora (12-3, 3-0) outscored the Panthers 9-2 down the stretch after trailing by as many as nine points in the second quarter. The Blackhawks won their second straight game by two or three points and fourth game by five points or fewer.
Zeitz and Skaggs had 17 of the Blackhawks' 29 second-half points following a 15-point first half.
"That's what I love about our team. Everybody puts their game face on when it matters most," senior starting guard Taylor Jacobsen said. "We mess around too much. Sometimes we get off track, but I think when it really matters we go in and that's what pulls us out because we have the heart to finish a game. We don't want to lose."
Guard Alexis Wiggins hit one of two free throws with 15.6 seconds left to put West Aurora up two. Glenbard North (5-10, 0-4) called a timeout with 4.4 seconds left and set up an inbounds play from sophomore Jennifer Deegan in front of her team's bench.
Even though West Aurora coach Connie Siljendahl said she suspected the ball would go to senior Laila Pickens, the Panthers screened Zeitz and Deegan's baseball pass found Pickens on the weak side. With Blackhawks collapsing on her, Pickens' shot from the left lane to force overtime just missed.
"That's all you can ask. I think we got a really good look out of it," Glenbard North coach John Chamberlain said. "They've been seeing the one thing so that's kind of a counter move and it just worked out matchup wise and Jen threw a good pass."
Glenbard North lost its third DVC game by three points or fewer, one in overtime.
"We talked about getting over the hump. We're in every game. We've got to learn how to win those close ones," Chamberlain said. "I'd love to get that lead and hold it and be a little more confident there."
West Aurora took its first lead at 31-30 in the third quarter but didn't lead again until Jacobsen scored her first basket of the game on a drive at 39-38 with 3:31 left. Jacobsen scored again on a drive in the Blackhawks' spread offense for a 43-40 lead with 2:23 left.
"I love that play so much. It was definitely thanks to my team to spread to floor very well," Jacobsen said. "Being a leader on the team, I definitely knew I had to step up my game. I definitely started off rough and I could tell I was kind of giving that off to the team."
Both teams hadn't played since Dec. 28 at Wheaton North's Falcon Classic. The Panthers set the tone early with their man-to-man defense even with point guard Zakiya Newsome benched by two quick fouls. They zipped to an 8-1 lead as the Blackhawks missed their first eight shots.
Glenbard North led 19-15 at halftime but felt the sting of several missed chances.
"Intimidation factor or what not, we missed so many layups in the first half especially. That's going to come back and bite you at some point," Chamberlain said. "I thought the defensive effort, especially the first half, was really good. They're tough inside and they started imposing their will a little bit."
West Aurora scored on its first six possessions of the third quarter to tie the game at 27. Neither team led by more than three the rest of the way.
"I give them so much credit. They played really, really good defense," Siljendahl said. "They were fired up and they were ready to play. We just weren't. They really put a lot of pressure on us, which threw our shots off. Once we got our bearings going, we were fine."
Sophomore reserve guards Carley Frauenhoff and Ashley Williams helped. In the second and third quarters Frauenhoff had 4 assists and hit the Blackhawks' lone 3.
"Just her enthusiasm and leadership was great tonight," Siljendahl said.