As the only two returning Riverside-Brookfield High School players who got significant playing time last year, it figured that Arius Alijosius and Will Gonzalez would carry the scoring load, at least early on.
And that’s what happened as the Bulldogs opened the 2022-23 basketball season winning three of four games to finish third in the Bill VandeMerkt Thanksgiving Tournament.
Both Alijosius, a 6-3 senior guard who has committed to Division II Winona State, and Gonzalez, a 6-5 junior guard, notched career single-game highs for points and 3-pointers in the tournament.
Alijosius hit eight 3-pointers and scored 30 points to keep the Bulldogs in the game against a ranked Curie team on Nov. 25, but the Bulldogs were defeated 67-57.
Gonzalez was hot from behind the arc on Nov. 26, hitting six three pointers and scoring 26 points to lead the Bulldogs past Thornwood 66-47 in the third-place game.
“Between the two of them it’s a great one-two punch on the perimeter, so I’m lucky to have both of them,” said RBHS coach Mike Reingruber.
Brother Rice, which is coached by former Lyons Township High School head coach Conte Stamas, won the tournament championship, defeating Curie 77-59.
Alijosius chipped in with 18 points (13 in the second half) against Thornwood despite hitting only two of nine 3-pointers less than 24 hours after hitting eight of 13 against Curie. He showed in the third-place game that he can also drive and score close to the basket.
“Definitely trying to balance out my scoring and not being so one-dimensional and compared to yesterday we had other players step up,” Alijosius said on Nov. 26.
Gonzalez had four 3-pointers in the first half against Thornwood. In addition to scoring, the lanky junior, who is the Bulldogs’ only returning starter from last year’s 23-6 team that advanced to the sectionals before losing to Whitney Young, has taken on the role of a primary ball handler for the Bulldogs this year. A 6-5 point guard, Gonzalez’s height easily allows him survey the floor.
“It helps a lot,” Gonzalez said of his size. “If a guy who’s like 5-10 is guarding me, I can see right over him and go where I want to go and not worry about what he’s doing to me on defense.”
Gonzalez, who scored 10 points in the loss to Curie, can also quickly get the ball up the floor after snatching rebound.
“When I get the rebound, we push and we get easy layups or threes in transition,” Gonzalez said.
Alijosius almost single handedly kept the Bulldogs in the game against Curie with his eight 3-pointers. He also made six free throws in seven attempts.
“It felt good, shooting-wise,” Alijosius said about the Curie game. “Every time I tried it, I thought it was going in, but it didn’t feel good when we didn’t come out with the win.”
The Bulldogs easily won the first two games of the tournament, breezing past UHigh 60-35 and Hinsdale South 67-34.
“Obviously, we’d rather be 4-0 but to come out of here 3-1, it’s the next best thing,” Reingruber. “I think we learned a lot from our loss and we’re going to continue to build on that and get better as we go on.”
The Bulldogs return to action Dec. 2 when they travel to the Credit Union 1 arena, formerly known as the UIC Pavilion, to take on Benet in the Chicago Elite Classic. Benet defeated Proviso East 68-59 to win the St. Charles Thanksgiving tournament last week. The Bulldogs open their defense of their Metro Suburban Blue conference championship Dec. 3 at Immaculate Conception.