CRYSTAL LAKE – The Crystal Lake South girls basketball team needed something to change.
In the Friday’s regular-season finale, the Gators trailed by three points against Crystal Lake Central – a team they had beaten by 18 points earlier this season. A defensive adjustment proved to be what South’s offense needed. Abandoning its 2-3 zone defense in favor of man-to-man and a trapping press helped the Gators refocus.
The impact was immediate. South held the Tigers to only three field goals in the third quarter and quickly erased the deficit to take a 10-point lead. The Gators maintained the lead the rest of the way for a 51-42 win between the third-place finishers of the Fox Valley Conference Valley and Fox divisions.
“Credit to Central, they certainly outplayed us in the first half, and we didn’t answer, didn’t respond,” South coach Kyle McCaughn said. “Our energy level wasn’t where it was suppose to be. ... We had a nice talk at halftime. Kids knew what they needed to do and did it.”
The Tigers (14-13) worked to contain South senior forward Sara Mickow by double- and sometimes triple-teaming her whenever she got the ball in the post. The strategy was effective in the first half, limiting her to five points.
Senior forward Shannon Ellman scored 11 of the Tigers’ 12 second-quarter points, which included three 3-pointers. She kept Central ahead as the Gators (16-12) put together a better offensive quarter. Ellman finished with a game-high 18 points and four 3-pointers.
“We just got a little too fast offensively for ourselves, and [South] runs the floor so well and push the tempo so quickly,” Tigers coach Paul Lichtenheld said. “You can’t give them opportunities to do that.”
South point guard Gaby DeJesus’ basket in the first minute of the second quarter brought the Gators within a point of the Tigers. But the Gators never were able to pull even in the first half against the Tigers.
Even with senior guard Evelyn Youel forced to the bench with 3:26 left in the second quarter because of foul trouble, the Tigers managed to go into halftime with a 23-20 lead.
But the Gators finally managed to get the ball inside to Mickow with open looks after they started making some outside shots. The Gators outscored the Tigers 31-19 in the second half. Sophomore guard Chanel Fanter finished with 14 points while Mickow found a groove in the second half to finish with a team-high 17 points and 15 rebounds. After Friday’s performance, Mickow is three points away from 1,000 in her career.
“I definitely think the defense picked up in the third quarter, and it transferred to the offensive end,” Mickow said. “I think we needed to focus on defensive stops and stop them from scoring because we know we can put the ball in the basket. We need to work on our defense.”