Remembering the disappointing loss to their cross-town rivals two days earlier, junior guard Mira Emma and her Wheaton Warrenville South basketball teammates returned to the court Saturday with a one-word mantra.
"We focus mainly on defense. Defense is our thing. Defense wins games for sure," Emma said.
"We definitely worked in practice (Friday). We got together and talked about it. You've got to have a response. And today was definitely a response."
Few words were needed afterward. The Tigers handled a tough Lake Park opponent 62-26 for the DuPage Valley Conference victory in Wheaton.
The Tigers (6-1, 1-1) outscored the Lancers (5-2, 1-1) to take a 32-14 halftime lead and pulled away with the first 8 points of the third quarter.
Seniors Jayla Johnson and Kennedy Youngblood each had 12 points, and junior Kylie Ruggles and Emma each had 9. Johnson also had 12 rebounds. Sophomore Darrione Rogers led the Lancers with 12 points.
It's already the fifth sub-30-point game delivered by the Tigers' defense. The most points allowed came in Thursday's 46-35 loss at defending champion Wheaton North in the conference opener.
"Especially coming off a tough loss, you've got to come out with a response. It shows team character," Emma said.
"I know our offense hasn't been our best, but the transition from defense to offense, if you have a good defensive game, it turns into your offense. I think shots are contagious."
The Tigers made plenty. They hit 25 of 44 shots with four 3s and 8 of 10 free throws for a season-high scoring total by 10 points. By contrast, Lake Park made 9 of 49 shots with three 3s.
Still, the Tigers' most gratifying statistic was 14 steals, 9 in the first half. Ruggles had 5 and Johnson 4.
Ruggles began the second half with back-to-back steals.
"Steals is kind of a big priority for us. We don't force it. We try to let it come to us," Ruggles said. "We all just kind of work our butt off to get the steals. Everybody has to work together and then it will come."
Considering turnovers and overall rebounds were fairly even, WW South coach Rob Kroehnke was pleased with what the Tigers did with their opportunities.
Stebbins, who had 10 first-half points, and Johnson fueled a huge scoring advantage inside. The Tigers added 4 first-half 3s -- 2 by Emma in the second quarter and 1 by Youngblood and Maria Dohse.
The Lancers won 81-57 at Waubonsie Valley on Thursday.
"That's the one thing we can control -- is how hard we play on the defensive end," Kroehnke said. "We converted at the other end and got our flow going offensively because I think our flow the other night was stagnant at times. Our defense not only shut them down but converted into our offense. To hold that team to 14 points in the first half…Wow."
Rogers, Carson Vance and reserve Sarah Yochem had the lone 3s for the Lancers, who were 3 for 27 beyond the arc. The Tigers' hawking out of their 1-2-2 zone defense and pushing the pace certainly contributed.
"We weren't ready to play. It's as simple as that," Lake Park coach Brian Rupp said. "We're a team that usually gets more than 10 percent of our 3-pointers. We weren't ready to shoot. We weren't ready to pass. We weren't ready to defend against a good team."
The Tigers' victory also showcased the growing guard bond between Emma and Ruggles since late last season and strengthened as AAU teammates for Mercury Elite.
Emma recalled the disjointed feeling after the Tigers lost last year's home game with Lake Park. Even the wrong side of the bleachers had been opened.
"We're playing really well on the defensive end. If we continue to clean up our offense a little bit, we're going to be right where we want to be," Kroehnke said.