WW South handles Benet; Glenbard West up next
Mike Healy leaned toward the court Wednesday and barked out "pressure, pressure pressure!" as his Wheaton Warrenville South charges swarmed.
It's not a command the Tigers take lightly.
WW South, with its unique, hyper-aggressive ball pressure, can make it seem like there are seven players on the court. It looks uncomfortable to face, and it apparently is -- just ask Tigers' senior guard Danny Healy.
"I'm uncomfortable with [teammate] Rourke [Robinson] guarding me in practice, so I can only imagine what other teams feel like," Healy said. "It's awesome the intensity he brings at the one row, what everybody brings."
That pressure put Benet on its heels Wednesday.
The Tigers harassed the Redwings into nine first-half turnovers, and allowed just two second-quarter field goals in building a 9-point halftime lead. WW South turned away two Benet charges for a 46-39 win in the Class 4A Bartlett sectional semifinal.
With the win, WW South (32-2) moves on to a huge sectional final Friday showdown against No. 1-ranked Glenbard West.
"Every game we try to bring more defensive intensity. That's been our staple all year," said Robinson, who had 10 points and 4 steals, all the thefts in the first half. "I just try to bring the defensive intensity. I know that will keep us in every game."
Healy scored 11 points, Braylen Meredith 10, all in the second half, Matt Sommerdyke 8 and Tyler Fawcett 7 for WW South. Eastern Illinois recruit Kyle Thomas scored 16 with 6 rebounds, and Brennan White and Brady Kunka 8 each for Benet (25-8).
Wednesday's game was a rematch of a January matchup Benet led deep into the third quarter of an eventual WW South 45-38 win.
This time, the Tigers made certain to take the fight to Benet, their full court pressure dialed up to 10 from the jump.
"After that MLK tournament game, we didn't think we brought it energy-wise in the first half. Once we brought it in the second half we knew they were uncomfortable," Danny Healy said. "Our coach challenged us tonight to bring it from the get go."
Two Healy free throws and a Healy score off a turnover was part of an 8-0 run for a 16-5 lead with 4:42 left in the half.
Benet, scoreless for a five-minute stretch bridging the first and second quarters, trailed 20-11 at half.
"They came after us pretty good," Benet coach Gene Heidkamp said. "Their pressure definitely bothered us early in the game."
The Redwings settled in themselves, and got the margin to five at 22-17 with 5:30 left in the third quarter on a Kunka steal and score. But WW South answered with a 10-0 run started by a Meredith 3.
Benet got it to five in the game's final minute, but could come no closer.
"We played one of the best basketball teams in the state. We were chasing, but it's hard to play catch up against a great team," Heidkamp said. "We made two pushes but we could not get over the hump."
Healy's free-throw shooting, 9-for-10 for the game and 7-for-8 in the fourth quarter, was a big reason. History that went the other way in his family, a 2017 sectional semifinal loss to Naperville North, burned hot with the younger Healy.
"We were in seventh grade when we watched our brothers lose a sectional game going 40% from the line," Healy said. "I was going to make sure that wasn't the reason I wouldn't have practice Thursday."
There will be a practice, and a game Friday with two schools separated by less than seven miles that the Tigers have had circled all season.
"We've wanted this game [with Glenbard West] very badly," Danny Healy said. "Can't wait."
Heidkamp's Benet team isn't moving on, but he saluted a group that was undefeated champions of the East Suburban Catholic Conference, and won 25 games against a stacked schedule.
"This senior class, they set a great example for the younger kids in the program," Heidkamp said. "Even though this game didn't go our way, we kept battling."