Metea Valley had been playing good basketball lately, so it looked for a while like powerful Naperville Central might be in for a long night Thursday in Naperville.
It didn't work out that way.
Naperville Central ended the Mustangs' three-game winning streak 62-43 to remain one game behind leader Wheaton North in the DuPage Valley Conference girls basketball standings.
After five ties and six lead changes, Naperville Central (19-6, 10-1) took the lead for good midway through the second quarter. By halftime the Redhawks were ahead 31-20. Metea Valley (9-11, 4-6) never cut the margin to single digits again.
"We're better at defense than we are offense, and once we got better at defense, that put our offense back in the game," Naperville Central junior guard Maiah DeShazer said.
DeShazer was a big part of that defensive effort. She finished with 7 steals to go with her 5 points.
The Redhawks forced 30 Metea Valley turnovers. They committed only 16 themselves, 7 of them in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
"I thought Maiah did a nice job defensively," Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. "I thought she did a great job in the first quarter. We had her up in the front (of the 2-3 zone). In the second quarter we had her back here playing center field a little more. That's the one thing. If they're big, you've got to make them put the ball on the floor, and we were able to do that and get some steals."
The defeat slowed the Mustangs' momentum.
"We have (been playing better)," Metea Valley coach Cedric Williams said. "It just takes some time. We dropped one against Naperville North and we just have to understand that it defeats you a little bit and we just have to stay positive."
The Redhawks were ready for the Mustangs' challenge, though it took a few minutes for them to pull away.
"We were (worried) in the beginning because we didn't have our heads on straight, but realized if we were going to win this we had to come together as a team," DeShazer said.
"The matchups are not necessarily in our favor," Nussbaum added of his concern about playing Metea Valley. "They are so big. And they probably outrebounded us, but I thought we did a nice job of putting pressure on them, especially the last four minutes of the second quarter."
Mia Lakstigala finished with 20 points, 5 assists and 5 steals to lead Naperville Central. Erin Moran added 15 points.
Ashley Konkle's 11 points topped Metea Valley.