It's looking like most girls basketball battles in the DuPage Valley Conference are going to be dogfights this season. Teams will need to adjust on the fly in order to survive.
On Tuesday defending conference champion Wheaton North found itself in a tight battle against a young Naperville North team looking for its fifth straight victory. The unbeaten Falcons even faced a 23-18 deficit in the third quarter before picking up their rebounding and defense and then pulling away at the free-throw line late in a 50-43 road win.
The Huskies actually held a big advantage in field goals made -- 18 to 10 -- but Wheaton North (6-0, 2-0) made 26 of 36 foul shots while the home team was just 4 for 5.
"I thought we did a better job of closing out the game," Falcons coach Dave Eaton said. "A win's a win and we're glad to be getting out of here, because again they're a very good team. I think the DVC is going to be stacked this year from top to bottom, so to beat them here on their home court that's a good win."
The Falcons actually missed a few free throws early on, but Hannah Swider and Nikki Baird got red hot from the free-throw line, and that was the difference in the second half. Swider missed a trio of free throws in the first half before going 8 for 8 in the second half on her way to 20 points.
Baird, meanwhile, tallied 13 of her 15 points in the second half, including a 9-for-10 effort from the line.
"Every conference game is the same for us. We just want to go 1-0 and get the win. It's early but every game in the DVC is going to be hard so it's important for us to get a win," Baird said. "People like Matti Zander and Hannah Swider have been knocking down free throws and those girls are in the gym all the time. I credit that to their hard work in the gym."
Naperville North (4-2, 1-1) worked hard for its 5-point lead in the third quarter as Greta Kampschroeder hit a 3-pointer and then Kara Rivard converted a turnover into another 3 for a 23-18 lead. But Baird countered with a fastbreak bucket as the visitors used an 18-8 run to take a 36-31 lead into the fourth quarter.
With a 38-34 lead midway through that fourth quarter, Wheaton North worked the clock well, forcing the Huskies to foul.
"We had that possession with about three minutes to go where we turned the ball and sort of put them in a mode where they had to foul," Eaton said. "Then Nikki and Hannah did a good job of hitting free throws down the stretch."
Baird said the clock-eating possession is something they practice often.
"We run that Princeton offense in practice all the time ... it's becoming more and more natural for us," she said. "In tight games like that it's great to get game experience running it.
"But that's a credit to our bench. They're the ones that work us in practice … that's really all the way down the line from player one to player 18."
Platou led the Huskies with 12 points and Kampschroeder added 10.
"You can't send a team to the line 36 times," Huskies coach Jason Dycus said. "They're a really good team and I have a lot of respect for them and their coach. We just gave them too many easy opportunities. We didn't play our best and we were still in the game. I told the girls that's a silver lining."