Chrissy Baird has dominant performance for Wheaton North

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Anyone who doubts whether Wheaton North forward Chrissy Baird deserves her spot on UCLA’s roster next year as a preferred walk-on didn’t see her play Thursday night.

In what has become a typical performance, the 6-1 senior had 18 points, 11 rebounds and three steals to lead the host Falcons to an easy 83-61 DuPage Valley Conference victory over Naperville Central.

After Naperville Central’s Emily Kraft opened the game with a three-pointer, Baird scored the next six points and scored 12 during the first nine minutes of the contest. That included the last basket of the first quarter and the first of the second period to cap an 11-0 run that gave Wheaton North (13-6, 6-1) a 26-12 lead.

Baird’s physical presence inside opened up the perimeter for the Falcons’ guards, who combined to make seven three-pointers and a slew of other jumpers.

“I think everyone stepped up,” Baird said. “A lot of people hit outside shots. When we’re getting shots like that from everyone, it’s hard [to stop us].”

Baird, who went 8-for-10 from the floor, is a gifted all-around player. She has the skills of a point guard in a power forward’s body, as evidenced by several of her coast-to-coast drives that started with defensive rebounds and ended with acrobatic spin moves leading to layups in the paint.

“She’s extremely long,” Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton said. “People forget that when she runs, her strides are pretty much two of everybody else’s. She covers a lot of ground because she is big.

“She’s a strong kid and she handles the ball really well, so when kids try to cut her off, she spins. If you don’t cut her off, she can finish it inside with her right [hand] or her left.”

Once Baird gets established inside, the Falcons get everybody involved and that’s when close games can turn into blowouts. Kelly Thornton had 14 points, Emmy Gryna and Emari Jones both scored 10 points and two more guards, Emily Barry and Dee Dee Berkley, came off the bench to chip in seven points each.

“That’s one of the really great things about this team this year is that it’s very balanced so [when] one person gets going, the next person’s not far behind, so it’s been really awesome,” Baird said. “I think we worked the ball really well, so when we work the ball the way we did, things open up.”

That’s what happened after the Redhawks (5-14, 2-4) had cut the gap to 34-24 with 1:13 left in the first half. Jones and Barry, who also had four assists and four steals, made back-to-back three-pointers and then Gryna sank a half-court shot at the buzzer for the hosts, who led by as many as 28 points in the second half.

“We had some opportunities to get balls in the basket in the first half and just didn’t make them,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “We’re down 34-24 where two shots makes it a four-point game, and then they hit three threes bang, bang, bang. That last minute and a half really killed us.”

Nussbaum and other coaches know all about Baird, but stopping her is easier said than done because of Wheaton North’s depth.

“The thing about it is, when she catches the ball it’s going in and she frequently catches the ball,” Nussbaum said. “And she’s got kids that get her the ball, so it’s all there.”

Shannon Ryan tallied 17 points, Lisa Tassi had 11 points and Kraft tallied 10 for the Redhawks, who made 10 three-pointers. But the Falcons shot 50 percent from the floor.

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