Stevenson, Kaznikov bear down against Waukegan
Matt Kaznikov's 6-foot-4, 210-pound frame is much thicker than his Russian accent, which he insists he doesn't have.
This much is clear: Leave Kaznikov open on the wing or send him to the foul line, even with the basketball game on the line, and Stevenson's unflappable junior forward will take advantage.
Affectionately called "The Russian Bear" by his teammates and coaches, Kaznikov took a big bite out of Waukegan in a North Suburban Conference showdown on Friday night. He sank three 3-pointers in as many attempts in the fourth quarter, scored a career-high 19 points to go along with 7 rebounds and helped Stevenson rally after letting a 21-point lead disappear.
The Patriots won 63-56 to pull into a first-place tie with Waukegan in the NSC. Both Stevenson (13-3) and Waukegan (13-4) are 4-1 in the conference.
"We knew they were going to go on a run," Kaznikov, whose parents are from the Republic of Belarus, said of the Bulldogs. "They're a really good team. We would have preferred not to have them come back, but we held our composure when they did come back."
Bryant Brown led Waukegan with 20 points and 9 rebounds, while Jordan Brown and Andre White Jr. each scored 9 points. The Bulldogs finally caught Stevenson early in the fourth quarter and held a one-point lead late.
"We just abandoned our game plan," Waukegan coach Ron Ashlaw said. "There's one thing we're committing to defensively and a few things we're committing to offensively, and if we don't do those things, you get down 26-9."
A putback by Kaznikov capped an 11-2 run by Stevenson to open the second quarter and extend the Patriots' lead to 30-9 with 3:23 left in the half. But Bryant Brown scored 8 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, to get Waukegan within 33-19 at halftime.
The Bulldogs then dominated the third quarter, getting better movement of the ball, including inside touches, while denying Stevenson kick-outs to the perimeter. The visitors scored the last 9 points of third, with Brown's putback in the final seconds cutting Stevenson's lead to 40-38.
A tight final quarter came down to the final minute, as Kaznikov's third 3-pointer snapped a 53-53 tie with 50 seconds left. He then sank both ends of a 1-and-1.
"The shots were just falling," Kaznikov said. "In practice, they tell me to shoot, and that's what I did tonight. Luckily, the shots went in."
Kaznikov, whose trio of 3s all came in the final four minutes, shot 5 of 8 from the floor and 6 of 6 from the stripe. He came in averaging 10.7 points per game.
"Matt Kaznikov stepped up big-time," Patriots coach Pat Ambrose said. "He's a good shooter, so we're not surprised."
Stevenson welcomed back a shooter. Matt Ambrose had surgery on the ring finger on his left (non-shooting) hand after breaking it against Palatine on Nov. 24. In his first game back after missing 11, the junior guard finished with 18 points and 8 rebounds. He sank two 3-pointers in the opening quarter and helping the Patriots build a 19-7 lead.
Waukegan shot just 3 of 13 in the opening eight minutes.
"I don't know what happened in the first quarter," Bryant Brown said. "We were just dead."
Like Kaznikov, Ambrose was clutch, making all 7 of his free throws in the game. He set the tone early with his shooting.
"He makes a little difference," Pat Ambrose said with a smile of his oldest son. Younges son Evan Ambrose (4 points) scooped in a big fourth-quarter shot on a drive.
Two free throws by Matt Ambrose and one by John Ittounas made it an 8-0 run for the Patriots to finish the game, sealing their fourth win in a row.
"We were up one (51-50) with 1:38 left, and we made bad decisions on defense," Bryant Brown said. "And then on offense, we rushed it down the stretch."