As the high school girls basketball regular season nears a close, both Lyons Township and Oak Park and River Forest teams are seeking to establish momentum for the state tournament.
On Saturday night in LaGrange, LTHS took a step forward with a convincing 66-47 West Suburban Silver Conference victory against the Huskies.
"We came out and moved the ball well," LTHS coach Paul Krick said. "I thought we got some confidence on offense early when we knocked down a few shots. I felt that helped us because we've been struggling offensively lately.
The Lions' work at the other end of the court was equally impressive.
"Our defense and rebounding were very solid," Krick said. I was also pleased with how we handled their press and how patient we were. It was a nice team win in which everyone got to play."
The Lions lead from start to finish, gradually widening their lead thanks largely to effective defense, patient offense and a size advantage.
Playing without injured starters Amaya Coleman, Maeve Nelson, and Darse Sanchez, the Huskies started the game sluggishly. Early foul trouble on Joi Holman, Barrington McGowan and Ahsha Spencer also hurt OPRF.
"We were flat," OPRF coach JP Coughlin said. "This is our worst margin of defeat all year. In spite of our injuries, we had played three good games in a row, but for whatever reason we didn't come out with any energy tonight.
"We played last night but that's not an excuse. Our defense was awful. We played about five different types of defense and didn't grab rebounds in any of them."
LTHS led 20-14 after the first quarter and 34-27 at the half. The Lions pulled away in the third quarter due to excellent interior play from senior forward Emma Fink.
Fink, who will attend Providence College on a volleyball scholarship, made three buckets that came off her own offensive rebounds as LTHS went on a 16-2 burst to begin the second half. At the conclusion of the spurt, the Lions had a 50-29 lead.
Fink finished with a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds (8 offensive), while teammate Lily Courier contributed 14 points. Senior guards Sidney Bugaieski (8 points) and Tessa Elliott (6 points) also contributed for the Lions.
"One of the things you can always count on with Emma is that when she touches the floor, she gives you everything she has," Krick said. "She was relentless on the offensive boards. She cleans up others' shots and is our inside anchor when it comes to our defense."
"Emma had a huge game," Courier added. "She grabbed every rebound in sight it seemed."
The Lions' defense also sparkled as OPRF did not make a basket for almost the first six minutes of the third quarter. OPRF junior guard Cici Garland finally broke the drought with a 3-point basket.
Coughlin was also impressed with Fink.
"Fink has killed us in all three games we've played with LT, along with Courier," he said. "They took advantage of their size, which is one of their strengths, and exposed our lack of size."
Garland had a team-high 14 points and 11 rebounds for OPRF. Junior guard Faith Smith added 12 points and senior guard Spencer finished with 10.
As LTHS (14-8, 6-4 in West Suburban Silver) pulled away in the second half, the Huskies became increasingly frustrated and started yelling at each other. With the playoffs looming, it will become important for OPRF (11-14, 6-4) to stick together and not show visible signs of discouragement. The numerous injuries have forced players to step up in roles they are not accustomed to.
Coughlin feels the Huskies can finish the regular season strong and do damage in the state tournament.
"We need to stay positive," he said. "When we play for each other, we play pretty well. But they can easily get frustrated. As a coach it's my job to make sure they think positive the rest of the way.
"If we stay positive and get the right matchup come playoff time, I still think we can upset somebody. At this point, we've got to win on hustle and guts and can't lose the 50-50 balls like we did tonight."
Krick is also looking forward to the end of the regular season. He knows LTHS has room for improvement.
"I'm a coach so I'm always thinking of ways about us getting better," he said. "This wasn't a perfect game as we had some turnovers, but it was still a good team win for us.
"As we look toward the playoffs, we know what's ahead and know we have to play our best basketball at the end so that we can make noise in the tournament."
The Lions have a pair of games this weekend, Friday, Feb. 2 at Hinsdale Central (6 p.m. tip-of) and Saturday, Feb. 3 against visiting Benet (5 p.m. tip-off).