Hoffman Estates downs Niles West to advance
The tale of Wednesday's Hoffman Estates-Niles West Class 4A boys basketball regional semifinal was told from the 3-point line.
Especially in the first quarter.
The Hawks connected on 5-of-6 3's in the opening period, while the Wolves were 0-for-7.
That led Hoffman to a 21-8 lead after 8 minutes, and Niles West couldn't catch up as the Hawks won 55-37 on their home court.
Hoffman will take on Rolling Meadows in Friday's title game. Meadows defeated Elk Grove 93-60 on Wednesday.
"We placed a lot of emphasis tonight on keeping the ball out of the middle," said first-year Hoffman coach Peter McBride. "Niles West likes to drive the basketball, and it's something they're really good at."
The Wolves finished the game just 3-for-22 from behind the arc, while the Hawks were an efficient 8-for-13.
"We forced them into a lot of contested threes," said McBride of the Hawks' sterling defensive effort. "We were fortunate that they missed some, and we cleaned things up on the rebounds."
Hoffman junior forward DJ Wallace led the way on the glass with 9 boards, and the Hawks excelled in the paint with 9 blocked shots, including 4 apiece from Wallace and senior Yashua Pettis-Taylor.
Hawks senior guard Mike Vuckovic scored a game-high 24 points, and his 3 3s in the first quarter led Hoffman to the big early lead.
"Mike's our team engine," said McBride. "When he plays really well, we play really well."
Niles West went on a 8-0 run to start the second stanza and climb back into the contest, but a drive and layup from Mike Vuckovic helped stall the Wolves' rally.
Hoffman senior Darien Irvin opened the second half with a 3-pointer, forcing the Wolves into calling a quick time out.
But the Hawks kept the pressure on, and when Nick Vuckovic hit an early 3 in the fourth quarter, the lead was 15.
Hoffman closed the game out with a 9-for-9 performance at the free-throw line in the final period, with 4 makes coming from Mike Vuckovic and 3 from Nick Vuckovic.
Nick Vuckovic scored 12 points, and Wallace finished with 7 for a Hoffman team that has now gone an amazing 19-1 this season in games outside of the Mid-Suburban League.
"You know what, our league is so good," said McBride, "that any time we have a nonconference opportunity, we're looking to take care of business."
Irvin finished with 5 points and 6 rebounds as the Hawks improved to 24-6 overall on the year, and McBride credited this week's lead up to the game for the big victory.
"We had a really good week of preparation," said the coach. "Niles West is a team that throws a lot of things at you defensively, and the way our guys approached our practices was very mature. They went about it the right way, and I'm proud of them."