IC Catholic Prep cruises past Willows Academy

 
By Gregg Voss
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 2/7/2019 11:57 PM

The IHSA basketball playoffs are full of unknowns. Opponents you've never seen -- heck, maybe never even heard of -- are suddenly front and center. And dangerous.

That was the case for IC Catholic Prep on Thursday in a Class 2A regional semifinal at Walther Christian.

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The Knights faced Willows Academy, which came into the contest with a 21-7 record and three scorers averaging 10 or more points a game.

IC Catholic Prep, on the other hand, came in 10-17, with just one scorer averaging more than 10 points.

Advantage? The Knights, who won easily, 52-28.

Why? A 10-0 run to start the game, another 14-1 spurt from midway in the second quarter to roughly the same time in the third, and basically a 16-2 run to end the game, though Willows did make a 3-pointer at the buzzer to set the final score.

"It's hard, in the sense that we have no idea of anything but their record," said junior guard Hannah Johnson, who co-led the Knights with 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.

"We don't know their conference, we haven't played them, we haven't seen film. But we trust in each other and we work super hard, to the point where we don't need to know those things. We just trust in each other to play our game, and we play it well."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Senior guard Jaida Smith, a varsity player since she was a freshman, scored 10 and added 8 rebounds, and her speed played a big role in both breaking Willows' press and forcing a whopping 32 turnovers by the Eagles.

"We just played our game, plain and simple," Smith said. "We always put five out that can score, attack and defend at all times, and that's what we did. We came out, we knew the game plan, and we just executed."

Of course, it helps when a player gets in a rhythm. That was the case with freshman Claire Wagner, who scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a 7-0 run all by herself. This was important because Willows had cut the ICCP lead to 36-23 with 6:27 to go. Maybe not striking distance, but enough to create concern.

"When they started pressing us, we were using our press break and that was working, but we also took our time, and we looked for the good shot," Wagner said. "We weren't rushing. We had faith in each other."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Wagner and sophomore Alia Johnson each scored off Willows turnovers in that first-quarter run, which was highlighted by a three-point play by senior center Jackie Lara.

The Knights were off and running, and they never looked back, much to the relief of coach Kelsey James. But of course, there's work to do before Saturday's 2 p.m. regional final, against host Walther Christian.

"I think that our biggest thing is to be more consistent on defense," James said. "Especially against Walther, they're going to score and we'll score, but it's going to be who's going to defend better."

Defensively, ICCP held Willows' leading scorer, junior Molly Murray to just 8, including 2 for 13 from 3-point land.

The Knights also controlled the glass, outrebounding the Eagles 35-27, which included 11 offensive boards. And they held Willows to just 18 percent shooting -- just 9 field goals.

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