Over the past two weeks, the Evanston Township High School girls basketball team has put a focus on the defensive side of the ball, according to head coach Brittanny Johnson. That was certainly on display against Niles North on Feb. 2 as the Wildkits cruised to a 55-21 victory.

In that game, after taking a 9-6 lead through one quarter, the Kits took control in the second as they held the hosts to just two points while scoring 14, which included six from junior forward SyAnn Holmes,  to extend the lead to 23-8 at the intermission. Then in the third quarter, the Kits kept the defensive pressure on as they forced the Vikings to turn the ball over eight times while only allowing four points to make it a 34-12 game heading into the final stanza. Sophomore center Ambrea Gentle tallied four of her 10 points in the third quarter.

To open the fourth quarter, the Vikings converted on an old-fashioned three-point play to make it 34-15 with 7:06 left. But from there, the Kits responded with an 8-2 run capped off by a three pointer by junior guard Delaney Brooks with 5:05 left, making it 42-17. That run all but sealed the victory as the Kits forced another three turnovers in the quarter and cruised to the victory.

Regarding her team’s dominating defensive performance, which included 11 second-half turnovers, while limiting the Vikings to totals of six, two, four, and nine points in each quarter, Coach Johnson said, “That was big. The goal is six points a quarter. So we held them under that, which is awesome.” The Coach explained, “We have been working on just defense for the last two weeks. That is going to start becoming our focus. Niles North is a team that does not have a lot of wins, but they are still a quality team. They play extremely hard. So, I am just happy with the win.” The Coach continued, “I was really, really happy with [the defense]. We gave up a lot towards the end and there were a lot of fouls called, but it was definitely very impressive.”

In addition to Ambrea’s 10 points, SyAnn also tallied 10 points to lead the Kits scoring attack. Regarding those two, Coach Johnson said, “I thought Ambrea was strong later [in the game]. She did not have a great first quarter but she usually picks it up.” The Coach continued, “SyAnn has been playing really great as of late. So, obviously, to have that tandem down low is something that we are really trying to utilize, to have a post tandem and not leaning so much on our guards.”

When asked how her team played overall, Coach Johnson was pleased, but feels they could have played better still. “We could have played much better. I think after the second quarter, we picked it up a little bit. For some reason, when we have the whole week to prepare, we come out really slow and it has been the same way all season. But I am happy. We are where we need to be [as] we are one game away from potentially winning [the Central Suburban League South] Conference.”

Indeed. With the victory against Niles North, the Kits improved to 17-8 overall and 7-2 in CSL South play. A win over Niles West on Feb. 9 in the regular season finale would secure the Conference championship for the second year in a row. Bur prior to that game, the Kits were set to take on Trinity on Feb. 7, the day this paper went to press.

Regarding the matchup with Trinity, Coach Johnson said, “We thought that we might see them in the playoffs. So now that we potentially would not see them until a Sectional, I think it changes the game up a little bit. It is almost like a free game. They are a quality team. They are ranked higher than us in the Sectional so I think it is going to be important to have a good showing against them.”

After the aforementioned Niles West matchup, the Kits, a No. 6 seed in the IHSA Class 4A Maine East Sectional, begin postseason play when they take on Oak Park-River Forest on Feb. 13 in the Lane Regional semifinals. Should the Kits prevail, they would play for the Regional title on Feb. 15.

“We have to become a defensive-minded team,” said Coach Johnson when asked what the keys to success are going to be in the postseason. “I think we are 50% of the way there. Our ultimate goal at the beginning of the season was to win Conference and to win a Regional [championship]. Those are still our goals. The Coach continued, “We are one game away from winning Conference, [and in the Regional round] we are playing against teams that we have played already, so there is that sense of  we know what to expect. So, I think we are right where we wanted to be. I thought this team would be where they needed to be in January and I think we are.”