The last time Maddie Spaulding played a home basketball game, the Libertyville junior forward left blood on the court after catching an errant elbow in the mouth.
She got a fat lip, but no stitches.
"Lot of blood," said Spaulding, smiling. "It looked worse than it was."
The second-year varsity player had better results Wednesday night in her first game back. Spaulding scored a career-high 15 points, shooting 6 of 10 from the floor, and grabbed 9 rebounds, as host Libertyville avenged a late-November loss to Lake Zurich with a 49-40 win in North Suburban Conference action.
Margaret Buchert added 12 points, going 10 of 10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, as Libertyville improved to 8-9 and 3-4 in the NSC.
"The last time we played Lake Zurich they pushed us around and shoved us around, and they were way more physical than we were," Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said. "We lost by 18 (54-36) and we could have lost by 30 if they would have made more layups. We just challenged our team to play older and play stronger. And they did it."
Ella Gilbertson had 15 points (11 of 11 from the stripe) for Lake Zurich (10-9, 5-3), which shot just 12 of 48 (25 percent), missing several shots from close-in range.
"I saw us not very prepared for some of the stuff (Libertyville) did on offense, so that's my fault," Bears coach Chris Bennett said. "I saw us get away from some of the things that were working -- also my fault. And they played better. ... They've improved, no doubt about it."
Libertyville led 16-14 after one quarter on 7-of-13 shooting and then scored the first eight points of the second. Maggie Evers' jumper had the Wildcats up 24-14 with still 5:25 left before halftime.
Lake Zurich responded with a 10-0 run, led by Zobel and Gilbertson, to erase its deficit, but Lydia Crow's turnaround 3-pointer from the top of the key gave the lead back to Libertyville, which took a 24-21 advantage into the break.
"When (Lake Zurich) pushed, we pushed back," Pedersen said. "It's a huge step for our team that we can play a game like this. ... We never lost the lead and we didn't lose focus of what we were trying to do."
Spaulding got hit in the mouth against Vernon Hills on the penultimate day of Libertyville's winter tournament and sat out the Wildcats' game the following day, Dec. 29, against Niles West. Against Lake Zurich, Pedersen gave her the tough task of guarding three-year varsity forward McKenna Zobel, who finished with 12 points and 9 rebounds.
"She had the biggest challenge," Pedersen said of Spaulding. "We didn't set a zone tonight because we told her she had to guard her kid (Zobel). She had to step up, and she played a great game."
Lake Zurich got as close as 3 points in the fourth, but free-throw shooting by Buchert, Spaulding (2 of 2) and Lauren Huber (2 of 2) helped keep the Wildcats in front. Morgan Manski and Spaulding hit big buckets as well.
"I think they played with a whole lot more speed than they did back in the first game," Bennett said of the Wildcats.
Crow finished with 9 points on three 3-pointers.
"I think we just all worked together as a team and executed what we talked about in practice," Spaulding said. "We were physical and we D'ed up against people that we bigger than us, and we just worked hard."