NORMAL – Masking the disappointment was difficult.
With third-place up for grabs, the Huntley girls basketball team needed to put together one of its best performances of the season against Whitney Young. But the Dolphins, featuring one of the state’s best players, were too much.
Huntley hung tough early, even grabbing a one-point lead three minutes into the game, but the Red Raiders couldn’t stop Whitney Young on the way to a 60-27 loss at Redbird Arena. Huntley’s fourth-place finish ended the best season in program history.
“These last three days with these kids have been unbelievable,” Huntley coach Steve Raethz said. “This postseason run has been amazing and they’re just a fantastic team. You hate to walk out of here today and have the season end because you want to keep it going with these kids.”
By halftime, as Huntley trailed by 19, it was clear this wasn’t the Red Raiders’ night.
Whitney Young’s defense was impenetrable, forcing Huntley to settle for outside shots. The Red Raiders (26-8) shot only 27 percent (10 for 37), and they fared even worse on their 3-point attempts (1 for 9). Frustration understandably built as the night wore on.
“We didn’t give up, but even getting fourth now, we still got so much farther than so many other teams,” senior guard Haley Ream said. “We can’t hang our heads. We got so much more time to spend with each other than everyone else. I love my team to death. It’s an amazing season and I didn’t want it to end.”
To try and alleviate some pressure against Whitney Young’s full court, man-to-man press, freshman forward Ali Andrews (team-high nine points) brought the ball up the court at times – a strategy that worked often this season.
Still, Huntley struggled to find a rhythm offensively as they managed a season-low 27 points.
“When you play against the type of pressure we’ve seen the last couple of days, in particular, they make you play fast and the result of that is you make some poor decisions with the basketball,” Raethz said. “We didn’t do a very good job at times of fighting pressure with pressure meaning taking it to the basket at times.”
Whitney Young (28-4), led by senior guard and Kentucky-bound Linnae Harper with her game-high 27 points, overwhelmed a Huntley defense that struggled to get back on defense or limit points in the paint (34). On top of the 22 turnovers that resulted in 24 Dolphins points, Whitney Young pushed the ball and always looked for a quick basket.
The Dolphins finished with 20 fast break points while Huntley failed to score any in transition.