This is defense the way Elliot Whitefield loves to play it.
The Evanston coach saw his team stagger in the first quarter, surrendering 20 points, but then the Wildkit girls applied the defensive clamps Monday night against Mother McAuley at the 31st annual Dundee-Crown Charger Classic Holiday Tournament.
Evanston earned its best finish at the Christmas tournament in program history, easing past the Mighty Macs 57-46 in the third place game behind 21 points from Seara Clayborn.
The Wildkits won three of four contests at Dundee and will take a 13-3 record — and maybe a new attitude — into the New Year.
“In the second and third quarters we really looked like an Elliot Whitefield team, because our trademark is defense,” Whitefield said. “Our effort was great and we really shut them down on defense. We’ve got the ability, we just have to be willing to put forth the effort.
“Our (halfcourt) traps were really good tonight, and we put together three good quarters instead of just two. We went to the 1-2-2 (zone press) because we thought it would slow down No. 22 (McAuley guard Elizabeth Nye, who finished with 13 points). The kids really executed and it worked out well.
“I thought we made big improvement as a team in the four games at the tournament. We came to compete after a tough game on Saturday and the kids continue to show their character. Our team chemistry is better now, because on Saturday they really supported each other and for the first time it was an ‘us against them’ mentality. And basketball-wise, we moved the ball better and we’re rebounding better as well.”
McAuley (12-4) totaled just four field goals combined in the second and third quarters after seizing a 20-17 advantage after the first quarter. Facing zone pressure, the Mighty Macs shot 3-of-9 from the floor and turned the ball over 5 times when Whitefield changed defenses in the second quarter.
Evanston rolled to a 34-27 lead by the halftime intermission and maintained that defensive edge through the third quarter, leading 45-30.
Seara Clayborn’s hot start — the senior guard sank 5-of-6 field goal attempts in the first half, including three 3-point baskets — rubbed off on her teammates as the Wildkits placed four players in double figures. Twin sister Sierra Clayborn (11 points, 6 rebounds), Leighah Wool (10 points, 3 assists) and Dashae Shumate (10 points) also played major roles as Evanston shot 49 percent (21-of-43) from the floor.
Seara and Sierra Clayborn were both selected to the all-tournament team from ETHS. It marked the second straight all-tourney for Sierra, who helped Evanston to a fourth place tourney finish as a junior.