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Neuqua clinches share of UEC Valley
By Joshua Welge | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/26/2013 12:38 AM

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Bryce Menendez lingered on the postgame bench to get a cut bandaged up.

A little beat up, Neuqua Valley could use a break.

Playing their third of four games over a tough eight-day stretch, the No. 3 Wildcats beat Bartlett 51-39 on Friday in Naperville to clinch at least a share of the Upstate Eight Valley championship.

Neuqua (22-2, 10-0) hosts South Elgin tonight, then gets a welcome four-day break from game action.

“We look tired,” Neuqua coach Mike Williams said. “It’s been like an NBA schedule, and Allison (Hedrick) and Bryce don’t get much rest. We have this game Saturday, and then a game next Thursday, so we’ll have time to rest our legs.”

Neuqua’s kids posed for postgame pictures, but the Wildcats seem a team with bigger aspirations ahead. This week the Wildcats drew a No. 2 sectional seed.

“We knew we were good enough to win conference, and it feels great. It gives us some momentum going into the playoffs,” said Menendez, who had 7 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks, adding, “We have further goals. We want to go to state.”

Bartlett (13-11, 7-4) was beaten by Neuqua 47-32 in December but didn’t go down easy in the return meeting.

The teams traded the lead seven times in the first quarter-plus, Bartlett taking a 14-13 lead with 5:52 to go in the half on an Alyssa Hernandez turnaround jumper. From there Neuqua hit the Hawks with a 13-3 run to end the half, Kai Moon’s steal and score giving Neuqua a 26-17 lead at the break.

A 7-0 Bartlett run got the Hawks within 35-28, and Neuqua answered with its own 6-0 run. The Wildcats’ lead bulged to 48-31 on a Moon runner, but even then Bartlett battled back.

“I think our team grew a little bit today,” Bartlett coach Denise Sarna said. “Earlier in the season, at times when teams delivered that knockout punch on us, it happened. Tonight the lead would go up, but we would come right back at them.”

Neuqua was coming off barometer games against Fremd and Trinity. Williams guarded against overlooking Bartlett.

“It was one of those letdown games,” Williams said. “We’ve had a long week, and it was tough. Bartlett played well.”

Hernandez had 14 points and 8 rebounds and Elizabeth Arco 8 points and 16 boards for Bartlett. When the Hawks could navigate Neuqua’s pressure and get it to the two 6-footers, they could score.

Easier said than done. Neuqua forced 29 turnovers, scoring often off of pressure.

“Neuqua comes at you with relentless pressure,” Sarna said. “I told the girls before the game to expect it, we worked on it and they do it to everybody. They go on those runs, and a lead can swell.”

Hedrick had 11 points and 10 rebounds and Najee Smith 11 points and 5 boards for Neuqua, which had 24 offensive rebounds. Even not shooting particularly well, between the turnovers and rebounds the Wildcats gave themselves numerous chances, doubling Bartlett in shot attempts.

“Bartlett is a big team, but we have fast guards. It kind of evens things out,” Menendez said. “We’re not the biggest team, but we’re able to get around people and use our quickness to our advantage.”

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