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Neuqua's Jabari Sandifer passes to a teammate while being defended by Waubonsie's Bryan Jefferson in Aurora on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton knew it was only a matter of time before Waubonsie Valley star Jared Brownridge would get going.
And he was right.
Brownridge missed his first nine three-point attempts in Saturday’s Upstate Eight Valley battle, but he went off for 12 straight points in the blink of an eye in the fourth quarter to cut Neuqua’s lead to only five points.
As was the case all night, however, the Wildcats had an answer.
They closed the game on a 10-2 run and hung on for a 59-46 win to take early control of the conference race.
“We can’t stop Jared, we know that,” Sutton said of Brownridge, who led all scorers with 26 points in the loss. “We know how good he is. We respect him so much. He showed everyone in that one little stretch just how good he is. We just made a couple plays to quiet that run or it was going to be ugly.”
Neuqua (6-0, 2-0) led throughout and held a 47-32 lead early in the fourth when Brownridge got heated up. The Santa Clara recruit went on a personal 12-2 run in the span of a couple of minutes to suddenly cut the lead to 49-44.
But Elijah Robertson’s jumper, a driving layup from Western Illinois recruit Jabari Sandifer (his lone field goal of the game) and a clutch three-pointer from Josh Piotrowski when the defense collapsed on Sandifer keyed a game-ending 10-2 run that clinched the win.
“We knew it would happen at some point,” Neuqua senior Pat Kenny said of Brownridge’s explosion. “I really think we did a good job of coming back and putting together our own run. Coach was saying the last run was going to win the game, and that’s what happened.”
A 15-0 run in the second quarter helped Neuqua to a 33-15 lead that Waubonsie (4-2, 1-1) had to try to overcome. But a successful transition game and a crippling second-half advantage on the boards (26-10) helped the Wildcats maintain the lead until Brownridge nearly saved the day. Robertson and Zach Pugh combined for 13 rebounds off the bench, which provided a huge spark for Neuqua.
“In the second half, they just destroyed us on the boards,” Waubonsie coach Steve Weemer said. “That was embarrassing. That’s just effort. Give a ton of credit to them, (Pugh and Robertson), we couldn’t counter that at all.”
Kenny paced a balanced Neuqua attack with 15 points, while Piotrowski and Robertson added 10 apiece as the Wildcats fired the opening shot in the UEC Valley.
“We knew they were the conference favorite coming in,” Kenny said. “We showed that we can be No. 1. It definitely helps our confidence level.”
Meanwhile, Waubonsie has to go back to the drawing board after the loss. Bryan Jefferson (10 points) was the only other Warrior in double figures.
“We got crushed tonight,” Weemer said. “They crushed us. Period. They crushed us. I’m going to be accountable. I’m going to hold them accountable, no excuses. We’re going to come back to work Monday. It’s early in the year, maybe a lesson learned.”