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The third time was a charm, and now Neuqua Valley is hoping the fourth time come Saturday also will bring good results.
After two weather cancellations this month, South Elgin finally was able to come to Naperville and take on the Wildcats in a battle of Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division front-runners Wednesday night. Neuqua Valley stayed perfect in league play with a 53-46 win and now has a two-game lead on the Storm (15-7, 7-2).
"We needed this and we play them again Saturday," said Wildcats guard Niki Lazar, who put a slow start behind her with 10 points in the third quarter. "This was a big win for us."
Playing without a pair of regulars in Myia Starks and Kai Moon, who are nursing injuries, Neuqua Valley (19-5, 9-0) still grabbed an 18-12 lead after one quarter after starting the game with a 9-0 run. But South Elgin used four straight 3-pointers by center Kennede Miller to take a 27-25 lead at the half.
Freshman Megan Keefer and junior Jamie McInerney had rare starts for the Wildcats and helped them to a strong first half. Keefer hit 2-point and 3-point shots during the 9-0 start, while McInerney opened the night's scoring with a putback.
But Lazar, who finished with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals, felt the team wasn't sharp in the first half. Williams added that rust may have played a role after school closings kept the team from practicing or playing games the past three days.
"It was a very difficult game for me and for everyone else," said Lazar, who made just one shot in the first half. "We were just flat and we weren't intense at all, but we just came out in the second half and we needed to pick up our intensity."
Lazar said the Storm seemed more into the action in the first half and their bench erupted each time Miller knocked down a 3 from the corner or whenever Savanah Uveges would grab a rebound on one end of the floor and sprint down to the offensive end.
"They were all pumped up," Lazar said of the visitors. "Their bench was amazing and they were doing a great job pumping each other up, and we needed to do that."
"We felt pretty confident at halftime," South Elgin coach Tim Prendergast added. "We had a good rhythm going and we were getting a lot of good looks but we had 3-4 turnovers in the third quarter that really hurt us. That's where we lost the game. I'd love to have that third quarter back."
Neuqua Valley went to a press in the third quarter and it worked like a charm, forcing 12 turnovers as the Wildcats outscored the Storm 19-7 to take a 44-34 lead after three quarters.
"In the second half we got some momentum back," Williams said. "You can tell when a team's a little rusty…you miss some free throws. But that's what we typically do, get on a run. The biggest thing was in the second half, when you get the run, hold the line, don't let them back in the game."
Between a little extra attention, and the turnovers, the Wildcats defense limited Miller to just one free throw in the second half after the 6-foot-2 senior had scored 15 points in the first half. Uveges finished with 10 points and 9 boards for South Elgin.
"Overall I'm happy with the way we played," Prendergast said. "We competed with them. We would have had to beat them twice to win the conference, so now we'll come back with West Chicago Friday night and then get another shot at (Neuqua) Saturday."
For the Wildcats, Najee Smith and Malia Smith joined Lazar to give the team three players scoring in double figures.