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When deciding on colors for their braces, good friends Deanna Kuzmanic and Lani Greenberg went their own way.
Greenberg picked a bright blue, because “that’s my favorite color.” And Kuzmanic went with green “to get some green in there for Alabama-Birmingham,” which is where she’ll be playing college basketball in two years. Green is a school color at UAB.
On Wednesday night, Kuzmanic and Greenberg were much more on the same page, and even completely color-coded, as both made Stevenson see red.
The Wheeling juniors combined for 25 points and 19 rebounds to help set the table for a huge regional upset. The Wildcats, seeded 12th in the Barrington sectional, cruised to a 52-35 victory over No. 5 Stevenson in the semifinals of the Waukegan regional.
Wheeling, which improves to 14-15, will take on Hersey in the Waukegan regional championship on Friday night. Stevenson, which got down by as many as 18 points, closes its season at 21-9.
“It feels really good to get a win like this against a team like Stevenson,” said Kuzmanic, who finished with a game-high 15 points and 11 rebounds. “My freshman year, we were like a 14th seed and we got all the way to the supersectional game. So we know that anything’s possible in the playoffs and that seeds don’t matter.
“I think (Stevenson) was a little caught off guard with us because of our seeding, and our record isn’t as good as some other teams out there. But we just knew that we could pull of the win and an upset. I think that carried us through this game.”
So did a spectacular start.
The Wildcats blitzed Stevenson right out of the gate, running up a 22-7 lead by the end of the first quarter. They made good on almost half their shots and the shots that didn’t fall often turned into offensive rebounds and second opportunities.
Wheeling was relentless on the boards from start to finish and wound up with 16 offensive rebounds.
“I felt like my rebounding was big. It could have been bigger, but it was pretty good,” said Greenberg, who scored 10 points and pulled down 8 rebounds. “Everybody did really good on the boards.”
Wheeling also did a good job of withstanding a furious Stevenson comeback in the second quarter.
The Patriots finally started attacking the basket and outscored Wheeling 18-6 over the quarter. That cut Wheeling’s halftime lead to 28-25.
“We started playing our game,” said Stevenson junior Taylor Buford, who scored a team-high 14 points. “Early on, we were settling for too many jumpshots. In the second quarter, we started driving and looking for the shots that we normally took all during the season.
“We thought we were getting back into the game. But after halftime, we didn’t have the energy we had in the second quarter and we started flat. They capitalized. Good teams are going to capitalize on that.”
Wheeling began the third quarter much like the first. The Wildcats reeled off a 16-2 run to start and took firm control. Kuzmanic had 8 points during that stretch while Greenberg added 6 points.
“I think we did surprise Stevenson a little bit,” said Wheeling coach Julissa Hernandez, who also got 10 points out of junior Hannah Dobrowski. “And we fought the entire game.
“We were running and fast-breaking, we were confident with our shots and we were tough on defense. We can be pretty physical and when a team isn’t used to that kind of defense, it kind of throws them out of their offense and I think that happened tonight.”
Stevenson, which was missing starter Jessica Burke and top reserve Melanie Despinich, both out due to illness, hit on just 27 percent of its field goals. Besides Buford, only freshman Ashley Richardson reached double-figures. She scored 12 points. No one else had more than 4 points.
Besides three double-figure scorers in Kuzmanic, Greenberg and Dobrowski, Wheeling also got 9 points out of Elizabeth Smith.
“It’s a very disappointing end to a good season for us,” Stevenson coach Tom Dineen said. “But Wheeling was the better team tonight. We did a lot of standing around, and we got down. We played a very good second quarter by attacking the basket and then scored only 10 points in the second half. When you play only one good quarter at this point in the season, that’s not going to get it done.”