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Bloom, King dazzle in Chi-Town finale

Folks who stuck around the Chi-Town Showdown at Young until the wee hours of the evening Saturday were treated to the best game of the day featuring No. 1-ranked Montini and No. 15 Bloom.

Montini, which took over the No. 1 spot after preseason No. 1 Fremd lost at Hersey and the Broncos defeated defending 4A champion Young, led most of the game and by as many as nine points in the third quarter.

But Bloom made three free throws with 5.7 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, then pulled away as Danielle King went 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in overtime to hand previously unbeaten Montini its first loss of the season, 80-75.

Kat Strong led Bloom (8-2) with 27 points and King added 23.

“We’re pretty good this year,” said King, who sat out a couple of games after taking an elbow to the head against Joliet Catholic earlier this season and falling hard to the floor. She had to be taken off the court on a stretcher and rushed to the hospital.

“We’ve got a lot of mismatches when it comes to different teams in our area, too, so when we have all our pieces, we’re a pretty unstoppable team.”

Bloom, which gave up some size inside to Montini’s 6-5 freshman Lindsey Jarosinski and 6-1 Rainey Kuykendall, used its quickness to force come critical Montini turnovers down the stretch in regulation and overtime.

“And we were able to bring their bigs out more and take them to the paint and get them in foul trouble,” King said. “Size doesn’t really matter. It was a disadvantage on the defensive side, but we were able to get a couple of rebounds at the end.”

King, who chose Marquette over Memphis and Minnesota, knows that one game does not make or break a season. But Saturday’s win did open some eyes.

“It just shows how good we are and that we can beat anybody on any day,” she said. “That’s what it really means. But we still have a long season to go.”

***

It hasn’t been easy for Tammy Russell to watch the Morgan Park boys basketball team dominate Class 3A, winning back-to-back state championships in 2013 and 2014, while the girls have yet to sniff Redbird Arena.

“Yeah, it is annoying,” Russell said. “Trust me, it is.”

Russell is playing her fourth year of varsity basketball at Morgan Park. The 5-10 guard teamed with Shami Goodman (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) and Bhrea Griffin (Eastern Illinois) to form the nucleus of a team that reached the Public League title game twice and the semifinals last year before losing to Brooks.

But the Mustangs have been unable to get past Hillcrest, Kankakee McNamara and Joliet Catholic in the state tournament the past three years. Will 2014-15 be different? Russell, who is surrounded by another stellar, if not younger cast, thinks so.

“We have two freshmen who came in as guards (Rachel Spencer and Lamarria Johnson),” Russell said. “They’re still learning, but they’re pretty good. We have Destiny (Harden), a sophomore who’s really athletic, Tyana (Porter) who’s coming off injury, has been dominating, and Cachet (Johnson) and me.

“We’re ready. We’re hungry. We’re pretty athletic. We can run. And we’re like a family. We all bond together and gel. So that’s nice.”

The Mustangs’ survived a nailbiter to beat Brooks earlier this season then crushed Gary Roosevelt 57-25 Saturday at the Chi-Town Showdown hosted by Whitney Young.

“We’re fighters,” Russell said. “We pushed through the Brooks game and we didn’t quit, we didn’t give up. That’s a good thing. We got a long way to go, but I’m excited. I like this group. They listen. We’re not disciplined yet as a whole, but we’re getting there.”

Russell has not yet committed to college. Morgan Park coach Kedonica Taylor and Russell are trying to find the best fit for the talented swingman.

“I’m not sure yet,” Russell said. “I just want to play Division I.”

***

Defending state champion Young improved to 5-1 Saturday with its 58-49 victory over Crete-Monee at the Chi-Town Showdown. The Dolphins should get even better when Madinah Muhammad returns from injury sometime during the holidays.

“I think that during this time without her, the other players have started to get a little better,” Young coach Corry Irvin said. “Our progression without her has gotten better, so I think when she comes back it will make us a little stronger.

“That was one of my concerns. She’s one of our main scorers, and I think some other people started to understand that they have to step up a little bit. So by the time she comes back, I think we’ll be all right.”

Among the players who have stepped up in Muhammad’s absence is 6-1 junior Isabelle Spignola, the Dolphins’ tallest starter.

“She’s one of the players who I’m talking about that has to get in the role of being more aggressive and scoring, because she can shoot and she can do some other things,” Irvin said. “It’s just been her getting confidence to do it.”

Confidence is not an issue for junior guard Kiera Lewis, who did her part Saturday by going for 24 points and 15 rebounds.

“I don’t know if she’s our leading rebounder, but she averages about eight a game,” Irvin said. “That’s one thing I think she does better than a lot of guards. She rebounds. She gets in there, she rebounds and that’s huge for us to have our point guard get rebounds like that. It just makes us that much better.”

But there are areas of Lewis’ game that Irvin would like to see improve.

“She needs to stop missing free throws,” Irvin said. “But we’re working on that. She misses a lot of them, and I told the girls that if we miss key free throws and we miss layups, then (a lead of) 11 points is 11 points instead of 11 points being 20 points.”

***

Joliet Catholic and Fremd both played shorthanded Saturday at the Chi-Town Showdown. The Angels have gone 5-4 with 5-9 junior guard Nicole Ekhomu sidelined by injury. But Joliet Catholic coach Kenny Battle expects her back soon.

“When Nicole gets back, she’s going to create and be a force,” Battle said. “She’s going to take two defensive players on the floor every time, which is going to create open shots, driving layups and easy baskets for everyone else.”

Fremd is dealing with an injury as well. Six-foot-2 sophomore and starting center Grace Tworek injured a knee in practice Wednesday. Tworek had an MRI on Saturday and coach Dave Yates said they should have the results on Monday.

“We’re hoping for the best,” Yates said.

***

Jim O’Boye has announced the schedule for Saturday’s portion of the 25th Annual McDonald’s Shootout Chicagoland Girls Prep Classic on January 17 at Willowbrook High School.

Play begins at 8 a.m. with Wheaton Warrenville South and Hillcrest, followed by Bogan and Wheaton North at 9:30 a.m., Naperville Central and Bishop McNamara at 11 a.m., St. Ignatius and Maine West at 12:30 p.m., and Downers Grove North and Marist at 2 p.m.

The contest between St. Ignatius and Maine West features the only two teams that have participated in the event every year. Darrell Kipp of Maine West is the only coach to have led a team at each of the 25 shootouts. Kipp was also a driving force in the event’s creation.

The shootout continues with St. Thomas More and New Trier at 3:30 p.m., Kokomo (Ind.) and Mother McAuley at 5 p.m., Divine Savior (Milwaukee, Wis.) and Burlington Central at 6:30 p.m. and Prospect and Geneva at 8 p.m.

The schedule for Monday, January 19 will be determined after the conclusion of the Montini Christmas Tournament, at which several of the teams are competing.

The teams schedule to compete on Monday at Willowbrook are: Kokomo (Ind.), St. Joseph (St. Louis, Mo.), Batavia, Benet, Bloom, Brooks, Fenwick, Fremd, Joliet Catholic, Lyons, Marian Catholic, Montini, Naperville North, Neuqua Valley, Providence, Trinity, Vernon Hills and Willowbrook.

***

The pairings for the Annual Montini Catholic Christmas Tournament have been announced. The top four seeds at the tournament, which runs December 26-30, are Montini, Marian Catholic, Trinity and Benet.

First-round games on December 26 feature Geneva vs. St. Joseph at 8 a.m., Benet vs. Zion-Benton at 9:45 a.m., Huntley vs. Batavia at 11:30 a.m., Montini vs. DeKalb at 1:15 p.m. , and Marian Catholic vs. Oak Park River Forest at 3 p.m.

Also, Kenwood vs. South Elgin at 4:45 p.m., Trinity vs. Plainfield East at 6:30 p.m. and Neuqua Valley vs. Bolingbrook at 8:15 p.m.

***

Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills will host the Windy City Hoop Fest on Saturday, December 20, featuring four boys and four girls games.

The girls games feature Seton vs. Bremen at 10:30 a.m., Rich East vs. Phillips at 12p.m., Crete-Monee vs. Proviso East at 3 p.m. and Morgan Park vs. Proviso West at 4:30 p.m.

On the boys side, Brooks will play Epic Academy at 9 a.m., St. Francis de Sales meets Bremen at 1:30 p.m., Seton takes on Gary Westside at 6 p.m. and Morton meets Griffith (Ind.) at 8 p.m.