Throwback defensive effort powers Stevenson past Libertyville
At the height of Stevenson's girls basketball success, when the Patriots' dominance included back-to-back state titles, they played championship defense every night.
Saturday night, with several players and coaches, including head coach Frank Mattucci, from those special teams watching, the 2015-16 Patriots played some of that old-school Stevenson "D."
For a half, anyway.
Holding visiting Libertyville to just 7 points in both the third and fourth quarters, Stevenson pulled away to capture a 52-39 win and stay undefeated in the North Suburban Lake Division.
It was just like ol' times for Stevenson (14-3, 6-0), particularly assistant coach Tom Kelly, who assisted Mattucci on the 1995 and 1996 state championship teams.
Said Patriots guard Ashley Richardson, who scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 5 rebounds, despite battling the flu: "Coach Kelly was like, 'I coached the 1995-1996 champions, and that's exactly how they played defense.' "
Riding a season-best five-game winning streak, Libertyville (9-8, 3-3) came out fast. Claire Keefe knocked down a 3-pointer and scored 8 of her team-best 17 points in helping the Wildcats build a 16-12 lead after one quarter. They hiked the advantage to 22-12 when guard Maggie Piazzi, playing her second game in a row after missing eight straight with a left-wrist injury, grabbed a long rebound and raced in for a layup with 5:22 left before halftime.
But after Stevenson called timeout, Richardson completed a three-point play that started a 15-3 run, which put the home up team up 27-25 at halftime. Jessica Burke (7 points) and Kiana Cencula drained 3-pointers during the run.
"We turned the ball over," Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said. "You got to play strong. You got to play more physical. And our guards have to fight and step to meet the passes."
Keefe's layup had Libertyville within 31-30 with 2:45 left in the third, but Stevenson finished the quarter strong and took a 37-32 lead into the fourth. Cencula opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer, and when she winged a long inbounds pass to Richardson, who finished a breakaway layup, the margin was 46-37 with 3:06 to go.
Cencula finished with 17 points, tying her season high, after scoring just 2 points in the Patriots' previous three games.
"My shots haven't been falling the past few games, and I lost confidence," Cencula said. "But I went in the gym and shot, and my shot's back. I earned more confidence this game."
Cencula was 6-of-8 shooting with a pair of 3s and drove to the basket repeatedly.
"I thought this was a breakout game, especially when we needed her," Patriots coach Ashley Graham said of the 5-foot-9 sophomore. "She is so talented offensively."
Stevenson limited Libertyville to 5-of-19 shooting after halftime, while helping force 7 turnovers.
Mattucci must have been smiling.
"That's more us," Graham said. "We're going to beat teams with our defense. Our kids have bought into that. That first quarter was a little helter-skelter and really fast-paced."
Libertyville couldn't sustain the energy, however, and the Wildcats will focus on that going forward.
"We need to play as a team the whole game and not just in spurts," said Wildcats guard Riley Weis, who scored 7 points. "I thought we came out really well, and we had that as one of our goals. We just need to keep (the consistency) the whole game."