Ciara Gentle may already be the tallest player in the history of the Evanston girls basketball program, but her confidence level is still growing.
The 6-foot-4 junior came alive Friday night at the Bost Family Classic game against rival New Trier at Northwestern University and helped the Wildkits whip the Trevians for the second time this season.
Evanston dominated every phase of the game in a 51-32 victory, and with Gentle’s confidence in her game on the rise, demonstrated that it might be best to be situated in another bracket – opposite the Wildkits – once postseason play begins.
Gentle converted 6-of-9 field goal attempts for a game-high 14 points, added 7 rebounds and a couple of steals, and Zuri Ransom netted 13 points for the winners. ETHS improved to 16-8 overall on the season.
New Trier only mustered 4 points in the second and third quarters and only shot 26% (9-of-35) from the floor.
Ironically, Gentle didn’t even score a basket in the earlier meeting between the two rivals that ETHS won in overtime. But she adopted a more assertive and more aggressive attitude against the Trevians as a crowd of 3,000 filtered into Welsh-Ryan Arena for the girls-boys doubleheader.
Like her older sister Ambrea, a former all-conference center for the Wildkits, Gentle prefers not to be known as a bully on the court and tries to rely more on finesse than muscle. But she also knows she needs to be more offensive-minded for an Evanston squad that has struggled to put the ball in the basket most nights.
Gentle found cracks in the seams of New Trier’s 2-3 zone defense and her teammates delivered the ball in the right spots.
“Ellie Oif has had some good scoring games for us lately, and it helped that they shaded their defense a bit toward Ellie,” pointed out Evanston head coach Brittanny Johnson. “That left Ciara open, and she made a lot of big shots for us tonight.
“Just like her sister, Ciara has been more of a ‘gentle giant’ and we keep telling her that she has to make herself known more in the paint. We did a good job using her early in the season but not so much after that. Tonight she concentrated on being a lot more aggressive, a lot more physical. She’s also doing a better job of getting open. She got down low and gave them better targets.”
“I’m playing with more confidence now, like I did at the beginning of the season against the shorter teams we played,” Gentle said. “But then in the middle of the year I started doubting myself, doubting my game. I just realized that I shouldn’t doubt myself anymore.
“They took Ellie away from us, but that definitely helped me get open. In the last game against them I posted up, but I let [the New Trier defenders] get in front of me then so I wasn’t open. Tonight I posted up, and kept reposting when I wasn’t open. I was a lot more patient.”
Senior Maya Wallace beat the first quarter buzzer with a 3-point basket from the right side, giving the Wildkits a 15-12 lead, and they completely stymied New Trier over the next two quarters.
Neither team could get untracked in the second quarter, which featured a combined 10 points and ended with Evanston on top 21-16. The Kits pulled away to a 38-20 advantage after three quarters as Ransom twice dashed the length of the court for layups after grabbing a rebound and Gentle chipped in 4 points of her own.
Evanston’s defense didn’t surrender a field goal for the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter to prevent any comeback by the Trevs.
“Our game plan is always to hold teams under 40 points,” said Johnson. “We didn’t even really have an offensive game plan for tonight. We’ve seen every kind of zone lately and the idea was just to take what the defense gives us.
“New Trier’s guards really struggled with our pressure. For us to be playing this well at this point in the season feels just great. It feels like we’ve had three different seasons this year. None of us ever played in front of a crowd this big – we didn’t even have fans last year – and the girls are almost grateful now. We’re really energized again.”
Congratulations 2 ETHS girls and boys
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