Kelsey James has been stressing the importance of defense throughout the season to her IC Catholic Prep girls basketball team.
On Friday night the Knights showed that they had received their coach's message loud and clear.
Holding Regina Dominican to a pair of field goals in the first half, just 10 for the game, ICCP captured its own Class 2A regional title with a 43-28 victory in Elmhurst.
Winning their first regional championship in four years, the Knights (11-18) advance to the 7:30 p.m. Tuesday Christ the King sectional semifinal.
"We've struggled at times on defense this season," said junior guard Jaida Smith, who totaled 10 points and 8 rebounds. "So to lock them down on defense, that was huge. To keep them to a low scoring game means everything to us and gives us momentum going into next game."
Holding the Panthers scoreless for over five minutes to begin the game, ICCP led 10-2 after the opening quarter, thanks to four points apiece from Smith and Alia Johnson.
Johnson added two more baskets in the second as the margin increased to 24-9 by halftime. Johnson, a freshman who was called up midway through the season and now finds herself in the starting lineup, finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds.
"Especially being a freshman, just having this experience with the seniors is awesome," Johnson said. "It's a great win for their last season with us. In the playoffs the record we had during the regular season, we pushed that behind us. We are just going our hardest in the playoffs."
Claire Gibler topped the Knights' balanced scoring effort with 11 points, 5 of which came in the third quarter as the home team extended their lead to 39-16. Gabi Zanoni added 8 points.
"They are realizing how fun assists can be, just as much as scoring," James said. "It seems like all the games that we have won, we have really shared the ball. We are going to play eight, nine girls and try to find a way for everyone to contribute.
"This is very cool. It's exciting, especially after being in 3A last year. They were able to prove to themselves that despite everything that has happened, that they can do well. But we are not done, now we are on to the next goal."
Kelly French led Regina Dominican (12-18) with 11 points.