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Fremd and St. Viator have taken different routes to the Class 4A Lake Zurich boys basketball sectional semifinals, and both will get to soon show if their journeys include another victory or two.
St. Viator has played a power-packed schedule that included 12 regional winners and two top 25 teams that were upset in regional finals. The Lions, who have won their third regional title last Friday, needed those challenges as they head into Tuesday's 7 p.m. sectional semifinal against Stevenson.
It is a rematch of last year's sectional title game won by Stevenson 77-58. St. Viator played that game without the normal day off due to a snowstorm that postponed their sectional opener. The Lions fell behind 23-10 and never recovered.
"We are excited for the opportunity to play them again," St. Viator coach Mike Howland said. "We are peaking at the right time. We get one more day of preparation and did not have that last year."
It should be a great matchup between two teams that love to get up and down the court.
Stevenson (28-1) is led by junior guard Jalen Brunson, who as a junior, is considered one of the top guards in the country. Connor Cashaw, Matt Morrissey, Matt Johnson and freshman Justin Smith give the Patriots tons of firepower.
"It is not just Brunson that makes them so tough," Howland said. "It's what they do on the offensive end with all their players that they have that makes them so dangerous."
But St. Viator (23-5) has also been dangerous, especially as of late. The Lions are coming off an impressive 81-64 victory over Zion-Benton on Friday. Zion-Benton was the only one to beat the Patriots this season.
Ore Arogundade is the leading scorer for the Lions this season. But when Zion stymied Arogundade, Roosevelt Smart stepped up to torch the Zee Bees for 33 points.
The Lions also boast 3-point shooter Pat McNamara and guard Mark Falotico, who has shown recently that he is fully recovered from his broken foot. Tom Martin has also been a force for the Lions the past two games, scoring 10 points in each of St. Viator's playoff games.
"We are trying to learn from our mistakes from last year and correct some things," Howland said. "I like our game plan and I think our kids will be ready to go."
Fremd has taken on all comers and the Vikings find themselves having outlasted each of their 27 opponents.
The Vikings played a schedule that included four regional winners, and they won the Mid-Suburban League title. Yet despite all their success and the undefeated season, Fremd has yet to earn respect from outside the immediate area. One newspaper actually had the Vikings drop in their rankings despite staying unbeaten.
"We really don't look at all that," Fremd coach Bob Widlowski said. "They kids have done a good job of being focused. They have brought lot of energy to the school."
The Vikings can take a huge step to earning more admiration from their critics with a victory in Wednesday's 7 p.m. matchup against Highland Park. Fremd has not won a sectional game since 1992.
Fremd takes on Highland Park on Wednesday. The Giants stunned fourth-seeded Lake Forest last Friday, leading from the start to upend the Scouts 48-39. Highland Park's top players are Adam Wolf, David Sachs and Luke Norcia.
Highland Park (22-7) won its first regional title since 2008 and have won 7 of their last 9, with one of those losses coming to Lake Zurich. The Giants beat Libertyville in the regional opener. They then used their zone defense to keep Lake Forest away from the hoop, then limited the Scouts to 4-of-16 shooting from outside the arc.
But with Fremd's front line of 6-foot-6 Ben Carlson, 6-6 Matt Ochoa and 6-3 Xavier Williams, the Vikings have some options for getting the ball inside. Meanwhile Fremd's Riley Glassmann, who had 7 consecutive field goals in the Vikings regional title win against Lake Zurich, gives the Vikes their own zone-buster.
"Highland Park plays their zone very well," Widlowski said. "Our core has been very sound and shares the ball offensively quite well."
Widlowski says his team has seen the same types from its MSL foes this year.
"They run a lot of stuff similar to teams we have played this year," said Widlowski, who is taking his third team in 11 years to the sectionals. "It is an exciting time of the year."