Although it didn't appear it would, one of the most anticipated girls basketball games of the season lived up to its expectations on Saturday night at Benet Academy in Lisle.
Defending Class 4A state champion Geneva jumped out to a 15-2 lead and led by as much as 39-22 midway through the third quarter before holding off a frantic rally by Maine West in the final minutes.
It took senior Madison Mallory's 17-footer with 1.4 seconds remaining to give the Vikings a dramatic 55-53 triumph in the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase game featuring two top-five teams in The Associated Press state poll.
No. 3 Geneva improved to 15-1 while No. 5 Maine West (17-1) lost for the first time since the Vikings defeated the Warriors 65-46 in last year's Addison Trail supersectional.
Despite trailing 53-44 with under two minutes left in the game, the Warriors charged back to tie the game at 53 when sophomore standout Angela Dugalic, playing with four fouls, swished an 8-footer from left of the lane with 12 seconds remaining.
However, the Vikings quickly inbounded the ball and Stephanie Hart eventually found Mallory open near the 3-point stripe with the clock running down.
"I was hoping we wouldn't have to get to that point, but I'm glad I hit it," said Mallory of her first high school game-winning shot. "It was a little stressful at the end because they really get back on defense fast. But she (Hart) saw that I was open and I knew I was a good shooter so I took the shot, and it went in.
"We really didn't call a play there. Luckily we got the ball over half court and I was open and shot it."
Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said she was trying to call a time out.
"But I should know better," she said with a smile. "We played better without a time out."
Meadows was not at all surprised by the Warriors' late flurry, sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers from senior Catherine Johnson that got West to within 46-36 with 6:19 left.
"I knew they were going to come at us," Meadows said. "I was waiting for it."
The Warriors took advantage of the Vikes missing the front end of the bonus thee times in the final minute.
"The last word we told the girls there is you have to have composure," Meadows said.
And that's what showed up on the final play after Dugalic's big bucket tied the game.
Mallory finished with 11 points, second most on the team behind Hart's game-high 19 that included three 3-pointers.
"I'm proud of her (Mallory)," said Hart, who scored 10 points in the third quarter which helped Geneva build its lead to 17 points. "I saw her wide open. I knew she had an accurate shot and I thought she was the best option in that situation."
Margaret Whitley (three 3-pointers in the first half) and Maddy Yelle each chipped in 9 points for Geneva which lost to No. 2 Montini a week earlier by 2 points.
"This was a great experience for us to play a game like this, " Meadows added. "Montini was great for us. And clearly, last year (winning the state title) was a great experience for us. This is what helps you understand exactly where you're at, what kind of team you have, and the guts and toughness you have. I think we learned a lot in those areas."
Dugalic (11 rebounds), Alisa Fallon (8 rebounds) and Johnson (3 steals) each scored 13 points for West. Rachel Kent added 8 points while Jessica Riedl came off the bench to score 4.
Allison Pearson hit 2 key free throws with 37 seconds left.
"Catherine (Johnson) showed her senior leadership," said West coach Kim de Marigny about the senior guard whose third 3-pointer in the final period got West to within 53-51 with 20.5 seconds left. "She is a captain and she knew what needed to be done at the end. She was taking control on the court and that's what we needed her to do. I know that will pay off down the stretch of the season."
The Warriors' slow start was fueled by 1-of-11 shooting and 7 turnovers in the first quarter.
"We played three pretty bad quarters so I'm happy to see the girls were able to come back," de Marigny said. "They just didn't lay down like they did last year when we played them. They showed their character tonight. Obviously, we've still got things to work on.
"There did seem like there was a lid on the basket in the first quarter. You can't get down like that against a team like Geneva and expect to win. But the girls showed a lot of class and character by coming back."
Geneva, which hit nine 3-pointers in the game, led 27-17 at half.
"It was like we were too timid," de Marigny added. "But we had a nice heart-to-heart talk at halftime and we decided that we had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So we said how about coming out and going after it, and they really did."
The coach also brought Bianca Mando and Vanessa Reyes off the bench.
"I put them in for defensive purposes because they hustle like no one else," de Marigny said. "They're difference makers on defense all the time. Hopefully we get scoring from them but their main purpose was to shut them down. We had to stop the bleeding and they really did a nice job on defense for us."