Everyone’s heard that Rome wasn’t built in a day – and after only four days of having a full lineup for Evanston girl’s basketball, lots of construction remains – but while it may not be built, the structure of the team is becoming clear.
Evanston (7-7) moved back to .500 on the season with a 64-57 win over Lincoln-Way West (11-4) Thursday, Dec. 29, in their third game of the Morton Christmas Basketball Tournament. The Kits advance to the consolation bracket championship, where they’ll play Sycamore Friday afternoon.
By no means did Evanston play mistake-free baseball, but its newly healthy rotation played with as much fluidity as it has all year. That rotation consists of eight players: guards Taija Banks, Arianna Milam-Pryor, Zuri Ransom, Kailey Starks and Dafina Ukaj; and forwards Ciara Gentle, Sofia Rocca and Jayla Warren.
“It’s our fourth day all together. I think they’re starting to get used to each other and trust each other more. It made a difference yesterday [in a 55-37 win over Lincoln-Way Central], but it definitely made a difference today,” Johnson said.
One of the few players who has been available all season is Ukaj – and while some would assume that other starters returning would lead to less opportunity for her, the improved ball movement allowed Ukaj to thrive, sinking five three-pointers in her 15-point performance.
“[Having our guards healthy] takes a lot of pressure off of her, it forces her to do what she does really well, which is shoot the ball,” Johnson said
Ukaj was the second-leading scorer for the Kits behind Ransom, who posted 19. The day was mostly positive for Ransom and the Wildkits, but with 7:49 remaining in the game and ETHS up 47-40, Ransom and an opponent fell to the floor. The next few seconds felt much longer than they actually were, as the crowd waited and teammates held their hands out to help Ransom up.
The scare was big for Evanston, as Ransom has missed four games this month with a hamstring strain and concussion. She was initially slow to get up, but when she did, Ransom ran down the court with no discernible difference in movement. Still, the referees wouldn’t allow her to return.
The ruling seemed to fluster the Kits, who pleaded for the officials to permit Ransom to return to the game. The Warriors followed up Ransom’s exit with two consecutive baskets, cutting the Evanston lead to 3.
After being cleared by the medical staff a few minutes later, Ransom re-entered the game – and she capitalized. Despite missing that time, as well as sitting out a few possessions while in foul trouble, Ransom scored 7 points in the final quarter, holding off Lincoln-Way West from taking the lead.
“She just wanted to go back in,” Johnson said. “I knew she was fine [when we talked during the injury timeout], that’s why I didn’t even want her to come out. But I’m glad she was able to get up and get back in [after she was cleared].”
The Kits prevented the Warriors from taking a lead for the entire 32 minutes. Evanston looked in control for much of the game, but before the score widened beyond their reach, the Warriors would tighten the gap. This pattern started in the first quarter, where Evanston jumped out to a 12-3 lead before Lincoln-Way West scored 8 consecutive points, trimming the lead to 1.
The situation was similar when the score tightened to 47-44 after Ransom’s injury, but Evanston prevailed.
Johnson and the Kits have just 24 hours to prepare for Sycamore before their 3:30 p.m. tip-off on Friday. For Evanstonians interested in attending and supporting the team, the tournament is being held at Morton College, 3801 S. Central Ave. in Cicero.
The game will be the team’s fourth in as many days. They will then have a week off before their next game, at Maine South on Friday, Jan. 6.