The Evanston Township High School girls basketball team fell to Niles West by a score of 53-43 on Jan. 5 in their first game of 2018. Fortunately, the Wildkits did not have to wait long to capture their first victory of the new year as they beat Loyola Academy the next day by a score of 47-43.
In that game, the Kits got off to a slow start as they trailed 18-3 after the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Kits got back to within eight when senior guard Amaiya Johnson’s basket made it 18-10 with just over six minutes remaining in the quarter. But the Ramblers responded with a 12-4 run over the final six minutes of the quarter to make it 30-14 at halftime.
The Ramblers stretched the lead to 17 after converting a free throw to make it a 31-14 game with 5:41 remaining in the third. But sophomore center Ambrea Gentle kick started a Kits’ comeback as she scored the next five points to make it a 31-19 game with 4:55 remaining in the third. The Kits closed out the third on an 8-4 run, capped off by a basket by Ambrea with 32 seconds remaining to make it 35-27 heading into the fourth.
The Kits kept inching closer and closer until senior guard TaMia Banks hit a shot to tie the game at 38-38 with 4:05 remaining. The Kits took the lead with 2:52 left when sophomore guard Kayla Henning converted. The Ramblers then tied it with 2:28 remaining, but the Kits retook the lead for good after Ambrea scored with 1:48 left, making it 42-40. From there, the Kits converted five of six free throws down the stretch to keep the Ramblers at bay, thus allowing them to escape with the 47-43 victory. With the win, the Kits improved to 12-7 overall.
“We had such a rough start,” said head coach Brittanny Johnson. “The fact that we were able to, down the stretch, make plays shows that we are getting better as a team and that is the goal. So this is a great win, a huge win. I have never been a part of a comeback like that, where it was just little by little, we just kept fighting back and that was probably the most satisfying part of the game was that we just did not quit.”
When asked if there was any particular message delivered at halftime to spark such a strong second half, Coach Johnson said, “I just told them that we have to start being a team that we want to be. If what you did in the first half was the team we want to be, I will sit down and allow you to do it. But if not, you need to go out there and act like the team we need to be and I think that they did.”
The Coach said she did not think playing two games in two days had anything to do with the slow start. “I think it was more so nerves and we just were not hitting shots. We were getting solid shots but not hitting them and we were not playing team basketball. But I think in the second half we went to playing team defense and offense and that made the difference.”
The Kits were led by Ambrea, who scored 21 point and grabbed 12 rebounds, while junior forward SyAnn Holmes scored 11 points and Kayla added eight points in the victory. Regarding Ambrea’s performance, Coach Johnson said, “She struggled early, but we really got on her at half. Everything with her is just confidence and I thought she played with so much more confidence in the second half. And she really is a matchup problem for the other team and we were able to utilize that.”
Coach Johnson is pleased with how the season has unfolded so far, but she knows there is still work to do. “It has been such a roller coaster ride. We knew it was going to be a roller coaster ride because we are so young and inexperienced,” said the Coach. “We have had our highs and we have had our lows. We had a low losing to Niles West but we will ride this high going into our game against New Trier.”
The Coach added, “I tell them we have to box out and we have to rebound and we have to play together but I think that we have to understand that we are in a great position right now, we just cannot get complacent, ever. I think at times we get complacent because we are young, but the goal for the rest of the season is to get better every day and be ready for the playoffs.”
Next up, the Kits take on New Trier on Jan. 12. Regarding that matchup, Coach Johnson said, “It is one of those rivalry games. We did beat them at our place [by a score of 53-45 on Dec. 1], and obviously, [New Trier head coach] Teri [Rodgers] is going to have them prepared for our game. So any time it is an Evanston-New Trier game it is a huge thing, so we just have to be focused and ready to go.”