Though there's very little in common in the way the sports of football and basketball are played -- heck, even the balls are different shapes -- the Wheaton Warrenville South boys basketball team has found a way to maximize the things that do translate, namely quickness, energy and a commitment to playing hard.
All of those attributes were on full display Friday night at Neuqua Valley when the Tigers raced to an 11-0 lead on the way to a 53-32 DuPage Valley Conference victory over the Wildcats.
"We've got a lot of football players on the team, guys who are receivers, quarterbacks and running backs," said WW South coach Mike Healy. "That helps them read things well, they're very active, have good hands and play real well on defense."
Defense did spark WW South's early run as nary a Wildcats pass went unchallenged. It resulted in a pair of steals that led to layups by Parker Robinson and Jake Healy, who combined for 14 first-quarter points. Paul Cuddihee and Zach Harris shared the other 8 points and the Tigers (20-4, 11-1) held a 22-10 lead after one quarter.
Of course, it also helps that the Tigers are very proficient at doing something that is totally native to the basketball -- putting the ball through the rim from long distance. WW South made 9 of 12 shots from the field in the first quarter, including a quartet of 3-pointers.
For the game the Tigers converted 10 of 17 tries from beyond the arc. Leading the way was Healy, who made all 5 of his 3-point attempts on the way to a game-high 20 points.
"It was good to see them go in," he said. "I was shooting well in the beginning of the season, then I hit a patch, but it's been better lately."
While the Tigers looked like a well-oiled machine in taking a 35-13 halftime lead, the Wildcats (7-17, 3-9) had a hard time getting out of neutral. Noah Herdman hit a pair of 3-pointers in the opening quarter, but Neuqua had just four baskets over the first 16 minutes. WW South's pressure defense, by design, prevented the Wildcats from getting into any type of offensive flow.
"We talked about it in the huddle before the game, that it was very important to jump on them early," Jake Healy said. "We just try to mess up the flow of the game, getting kicks and tips."
WW South's lead was at its largest at the end of three quarters, 43-19, before the Wildcats -- behind 4 points from Dubem Ogbuehi and a 3-pointer from Connor Lake -- played their best over the final eight minutes to establish the final score.
The win was WW South's 20th of the season, a milestone the program has reached in consecutive seasons.
"Our seniors have now won 49 games over two years," Mike Healy said. "It's special anytime you get to 20 wins in a year, it's exciting."
Jake Healy echoed his father's comments, with a notable addendum: "Twenty wins is something you don't take for granted, it's very important, but there's a bigger picture, too."
In other words the postseason looms.