Winning came easily for No. 15 Naperville Central during the first half of the season.
The second half has been a different story.
The Redhawks have been winning ugly when they’ve been winning at all and that was the case again Saturday when they came from behind to knock off crosstown rival Naperville North 43-40 at North.
The result snapped a pair of streaks as Naperville Central had lost its last three games while the host Huskies came into the DuPage Valley Conference contest riding a three-game winning streak.
“If somebody could explain to me why it was so easy in November and December and why it’s been so difficult in January and February, if I could explain that I’d probably write a book and make a million dollars,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “We’ve struggled offensively.”
In that respect, nothing changed for the Redhawks (22-6, 8-5), who shot only 16-for-53 from the floor and were 7-for-19 from the free-throw line.
But the visitors were able to rally from a seven-point third-quarter deficit thanks to their defense, which allowed only four baskets in the second half, and their rebounding, which was dominant throughout.
“Rebounding is important in every game and it’s a big aspect to the game of basketball,” Central forward Laura Dierking said. “I just try to do my best every time I’m out there.”
Dierking, a 5-11 senior, came up with the most important rebound when she corralled an air-balled three-point attempt from Shannon Ryan and scored on a putback with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That gave the Redhawks a 40-38 lead and the Huskies (12-13, 5-8) were unable to catch up.
Naperville North led by as many as nine points in the second quarter and were still ahead 37-31 following a three-pointer by Zoe Swift early in the fourth quarter.
The cat-quick Swift led all scorers with 20 points, but only three of them came after that point as the Redhawks tried to harass her as much as possible on her drives down the lane.
“In the fourth quarter we just tried to keep our heads up and we wanted it so bad,” said Dierking, who scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half. “Zoe is an excellent player and she was able to get those drives to the basket. We did our best to stop her whatever way we could without fouling her.”
Swift sank a pair of foul shots to pull the Huskies within 42-40 with 25.8 seconds to go, but she missed on two drives and after Dierking finished the scoring by splitting a pair of free throws with 17.1 remaining, both Swift and freshman Laurel Pereira missed three-point tries that would have tied the game.
Senior center Victoria Trowbridge shot 3-for-11 from the free-throw line but had 11 points, a career-high 19 rebounds and three blocks for the Redhawks. Jamie Cuny added six points and eight rebounds and Ryan had five points, including a trey that cut North’s lead to 37-36.
“Defensively, I thought we were pretty sharp,” Nussbaum said. “They got four baskets in the second half, so that’s the thing I think we have to hang our hat on. If we can just get our offense back [we’ll be fine] because we’re doing a good job defensively.”
Central used its height advantage to maximum effect, especially when North’s 5-11 sophomore forward Kayla Sharples got saddled with foul trouble. Sharples was limited to one shot in the first half and finished with six points and four rebounds. No other Huskie scored more than four points.