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Brittanny Johnson is a big believer in having momentum on your side when the Illinois High School Association girls basketball tournament playoffs begin.
The Wildkit coach will have to find that momentum in the practice gym over the next couple of days after the Kits saw their five-game winning string snapped in a 67-50 loss to state-ranked Hersey Thursday night on the road.
Breakdowns on defense and offense against the No. 9 Huskies meant the visitors never really challenged the winners and left Johnson with some issues to address before ETHS hosts its own Class 4A regional tournament next Tuesday.
The Wildkits, seeded third overall in the Glenbrook South Sectional complex, have time to get back on track after their worst loss of a 17-9 season. They open regional play at 6 p.m. next Tuesday against Niles West, and the winner of that game advances to the regional championship game against either Glenbrook North or Lincoln Park.
Together, Huskies’ junior standouts Katy Eidle (25 points) and Natalie Alesia (21) combined to score almost as many points as the entire Wildkits’ squad Thursday as the losers shot a mere 25% (11-of-45) over the first three quarters.
Three Evanston players – Kailey Starks with 17, Taija Banks with 15 and Zuri Ransom with 11 – did reach double figures, most of that offense coming after the outcome was already decided. Ransom and Ellie Oif, who earlier in the week were named to the all-Central Suburban League South division team, netted just a combined 7 points in the first three periods when the Wildkits fell behind 52-33.
Hersey (26-5), which will host the Class 4A super-sectional on Feb. 28, was added to the ETHS schedule after the coronavirus surge hit the Evanston community and forced postponement of a game with state-ranked Loyola Academy. Johnson decided to schedule another state-ranked opponent – if she could – and didn’t flinch when the Huskies offered to play them in the regular-season finale.
“I think we’ll look back at this decision to play them in another week and think it was a good idea, but tonight was a complete defensive disaster. I don’t think we’ve ever give up 20 points to two different kids [in the same game], and I think it was a good lesson for us,” she said.
“I thought we had turned the corner on offense, but I’m more concerned about what was probably the worst defensive effort and execution I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I guess I have to put such a breakdown on myself, because I wanted a different feel against an out-of-conference team that would play us tough and not sit back in a 2-3 zone.
“We don’t have anyone who has played in a state playoff game before and I wanted them to get a feeling for what it’s like to play with the end of the season on the line. Our defense just completely broke down tonight. Hersey was so comfortable they didn’t have a tough shot attempt in the second half.”
Eidle, a University of Michigan recruit, needed 23 shots to score her 25 points. She fired in 16 points in the first half, lifting the hosts to a 31-21 advantage, and they never looked back after that.