Some schools in the Central Suburban League North division have become reluctant to play schools in the CSL South on their schedules in both boys and girls basketball lately, and Exhibit A in stating their case for avoiding such matchups are blowouts like Tuesday’s regular season home finale at Beardsley Gym.
But even games like this one – a 58-19 slaughter rule victory for Evanston over Niles North – can serve a purpose.
Evanston junior Taija Banks, still on the mend after missing almost two full seasons with a knee injury, came off the bench and played one of her best games of the season and erupted for a game-high 12 points in the first quarter of Tuesday’s romp.
Ellie Oif and Kailey Starks added 10 points apiece, Ciara Gentle contributed 9 points in about that many minutes played, and sophomore Arianna Milam-Pryor tallied 8 points as the Wildkits improved to 17-8 on the season.
Niles North (6-17) trailed 36-9 at halftime and turned the ball over a staggering 31 times. Fourteen of those turnovers came in the first quarter against Evanston’s relentless defense, and the Vikings only got off three field goal attempts in the first eight minutes of the lopsided encounter.
The CSL crossover games, including a matchup of first place teams in the respective divisions, have been built into the schedule as the regular season finale for several years now. Evanston actually has one more contest, Thursday at Hersey, prior to the start of Class 4A postseason play.
But the trend is for the smaller schools in the North to schedule more nonconference games outside the CSL, avoiding more dates with the bigger schools in the South.
“I think the championship [crossover showcase] game between Maine South and Deerfield will be a great game. But I understand both sides of it,” said Evanston head coach Brittanny Johnson. “I still think every game has a purpose, and it just depends on how a coach handles it.
“I really enjoyed the fact that we got to play everybody extended minutes tonight. Those kids coming off the bench work just as hard as the starters and I really don’t care about the score in a game like this. It’s how we looked, and if we got better, that’s all I care about. We missed a lot of shots tonight [25-of-73 from the field], but our intensity on defense should never change, and we did a good job of sticking to our [defensive] principles.”
Banks, a 5-foot-7 junior guard, didn’t score again after the first quarter but for a player who suffered a torn ACL as a freshman, any chance to get on the court – even against a weaker foe – seems like the opportunity of a lifetime.
“Taija’s older sister [TaMia] was the toughest player I’ve ever coached,” Johnson noted. “And when I saw Taija play feeder basketball I was impressed with her grit and how fearless she was. She played so hard.
“She split her time [as a freshman] between the JV and varsity before she got hurt, and basically had to sit out from the middle of December that year to the last week of the season last year. Taija absolutely would have started for us last year. She hasn’t played consistently for two years and she still wasn’t 100% at the beginning of the season.
“As far as her movement goes, she’s looked great in practice and tonight was the best I’ve seen her look since her freshman year. I’ve made her come early to practice and stay late after practice to help her build good habits and now she’s always the first one in the gym. Hopefully this game tonight will be a confidence booster for her because we’re going to need her in the [state] playoffs.”
Banks scored a career-high 16 points in a shootout game against Thornwood last month, but has only reached double figures a couple of other times while coming off the bench. Tuesday her aggressiveness paid off as she scored 12 points in 4 minutes while the Wildkits bullied the Vikings for a 26-2 lead after the first quarter.
She only attempted four more shots the rest of the game, but the Kits had no trouble rolling to quarter leads of 36-9 and 52-14 before the running clock rule was put into effect in the fourth quarter.