Class 4A Neuqua Valley sectional final
Who, When: No. 1 Bolingbrook (25-1) vs. No. 2 Benet (25-6), 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays winner of Lyons Township sectional (Whitney Young vs. Trinity) at Hinsdale Central supersectional, 8:10 p.m. Monday.
Inside the matchup: David vs. Goliath, Part II. The Redwings lost to Bolingbrook 64-44 in last year's sectional final, a game in which they were within 26-21 at halftime. "Last time we gave them a game for a half," Benet coach Peter Paul said. "We'd like to at least do it a little bit longer." That will be a tall task literally. Three-time defending state champion Bolingbrook and its stunning eight Division I-bound seniors, led by Connecticut-bound Morgan Tuck, are 18-0 against in-state teams with an average margin of victory of 50 points. And Benet's biggest problem, the Raiders are huge. Tuck stands 6-foot-2, Illinois recruit Nia Moore 6-3 and burly Auburn-bound Cabriana Capers is 6-foot. Benet counters with one starter, Lauren Malley, taller than 5-10. Benet's best chance is to shoot its way to an upset, and few teams shoot it like the Redwings. Sisters Sidney Prasse and Christen Prasse have combined for 86 points and 17 3-pointers over Benet's last two games. "We have to shoot the ball that well on Thursday night," Paul said. "If we shoot the ball well, we're going to be in a lot of ballgames." Benet is the last team to beat Bolingbrook in a sectional game, in 2004. Since then Bolingbrook has won a record seven straight sectional titles, a mark it shares with Montini.
Class 4A Hoffman Estates sectional final
Who, When: No. 1 Bartlett (29-1) vs. No. 3 Wheaton Warrenville South (28-3), 7:30 p.m., Thursday.
Advancement: The winner plays the winner of the McHenry sectional (Cary-Grove vs. DeKalb) at Elgin supersectional, 8:10 p.m. Monday).
Inside the matchup: Is it the Tigers' time? WW South, starting just one senior in Kasey Gassensmith, seeks its first sectional championship since 1997. Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke was an assistant on that team, the only WW South sectional champ (the former Wheaton Central won one in 1985). Kroehnke knows opportunities like these don't come around often. "There's only 16 teams left in the state, we're one of them, and that's a great accomplishment," Kroehnke said, "but there's more work to be done. We feel that we can do more." Bartlett, in its second sectional final in three years, brings much more experience and is a team anointed by many to make its first state trip since 2005. Indiana recruit Haley Videckis headlines an all-senior starting lineup, but 6-foot Kristin Conniff is a versatile talent like Gassensmith who can beat teams inside and on the perimeter. Tigers sophomore point guard Meghan Waldron, averaging a team-high 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists, must help keep a manageable tempo against a Bartlett team that craves the run-and-gun game. Fellow sophomore Maggie Dansdill has stepped up her production in the playoffs, averaging 13 points in three games to complement Waldron and Gassensmith, averaging 13 a game. "If we can create some easy buckets by pushing the ball we will," Kroehnke said, "but it will come down to making the most of our possessions and not wasting them. We don't mind playing at that fast pace, but you have to know when to go."
Class 3A Glenbard South sectional final
Who, When: No. 1 Montini (29-5) vs. No. 2 St. Joseph (22-10), 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Advancement: Winner plays winner of Crane sectional (Guerin vs. Crane) at Hinsdale Central supersectional, 6 p.m. Feb. 27).
Inside the matchup: The two-time defending 3A champion Broncos face perhaps their biggest roadblock back to Redbird Arena here. St. Joseph beat Montini 39-34 in December in Lombard, a game in which the Broncos blew a double-digit second-half lead. The Chargers seemed to have rediscovered their mojo, winning five straight since a four-game losing streak that coincided with injuries to seniors Briya Wilborn and Donna Koerber. "Watching them last night, they looked very determined and very motivated and they are seniors," Montini coach Jason Nichols said after Tuesday's sectional semifinals. "This will be a grudge match." Tianna Brown, the only senior in Montini's rotation, scored 14 points in the first meeting, but junior guard Nikia Edom has been hot lately, scoring 12 points Tuesday. Montini's defense gives up a tick under 34 points a game, and containing Koerber and Wilborn will be key as will be dictating pace. "Last time we played them I thought there was no pace to the game," Nichols said. "We do better when there's more pace to the game." Montini has won 14 straight playoff games by double figures since a 42-41 white-knuckler over St. Joseph in the 2010 sectional semifinal. "There's a lot of things that each of these teams wants to prove in this game," Nichols said. "(St. Joseph) wants to prove that their first win over us wasn't a fluke. Our kids want to prove that they are the better team."