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Myia Starks (10) of Neuqua Valley looks ahead to the basket on a fast break after a steal from Wheaton Warrenville South. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
No. 16 Neuqua Valley used a 27-7 run spanning the second and third quarters to overcome No. 9 WW South for a 55-48 victory Tuesday in a nonconference game in Naperville.
Najee Smith hit a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the first half to help the Wildcats (17-1) erase most of a 27-15 deficit. Two buckets by Allison Hedrick and a layup by freshman Myia Starks gave the hosts a 42-34 lead with 1:18 remaining in the third quarter.
WW South (14-3) got within 45-41 with 7:04 remaining in the fourth quarter on a short jumper in the lane by Meghan Waldron. But the Wildcats made eight free throws down the stretch including two by Malia Smith (nine points) that extended the lead to 52-43 with 2:51 remaining.
“It was a rough start for us,” said Hedrick, who had 12 points to share team scoring honors with Najee Smith. “I had a lot of turnovers the first half. In the locker room at halftime, my teammates told me to go play my game. They had confidence in me. That helped me play my game better.
“Jay [Najee] played unbelievably,” Hedrick added. “Her shooting was phenomenal. Her spark helped the rest of us pick up our game. This was a big game for us. We want to make a run for state. A lot of other teams doubt that we can do it. We just want to prove that we can play ball.”
Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams, whose team had a lengthy layoff during the holidays, said he hesitated to talk about the importance of the game with his team. But he finally relented.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “But we need something like this at this time of year. We can’t walk in the playoffs without this type of atmosphere, without this type of pressure on us. If we don’t do this now, what will happen in the regional championship? In the first game of sectional?
“I thought we were tight in the beginning, and they’re very good ball team,” he added. “They’ve got great guards. I know they’re missing Diamond (Thompson) back there. I’ve seen them play with her and without her, and they’re a really good team.
“We also get Trinity and Fremd and Metea Valley,” he added. “I love it. I think it’s great for us.”
Waldron had 15 points, 10 rebounds and five steals, Sierra Bisso had 16 points and Melinda Franke had eight points and seven rebounds for WW South, which had just seven rebounds and shot under 30 percent in the second half.
The Tigers played without the 6-4 Thompson, who is expected to miss another two-to-three weeks with a knee injury, and head coach Rob Kroehnke, who was seriously hurt in a hiking accident in Wisconsin over the holidays but hopes to return (via wheelchair) next week.
The Tigers are also awaiting the return of senior guard/forward Kelly Langlas (knee injury), who may be back by the end of the month. But WW South assistant coach Shelley Thompson refused to use the Tigers’ laundry list of injuries as an excuse.
“We let them change the tempo on us during the last three minutes of the first half,” she said. “We let the game get away from us. We lost focus. We made a good effort trying to pull things back in the second half. We just let it get too far away.
“This would only be a loss if we don’t learn from it,” Thompson added. “It’s not the end of the season. We need to learn things about tempo and strategy and they have to learn to trust each other. Sometimes things come easy and you need this loss to readjust focus.”