La SALLE – Coming into Tuesday’s Interstate 8 Conference game, the Sycamore girls basketball team’s top priority was slowing down La Salle-Peru guard Brooklyn Ficek.
Northern Illinois University recruit Lexi Carlsen – with help from her teammates – limited Ficek to two points.
The defensive effort combined with an offensive adjustment in the second quarter allowed the Spartans to pull away for a 55-29 victory.
“Definitely the No. 1 key on the whiteboard before we ran out was to stop Brooklyn, and I feel like we did a really good job at that,” said Sycamore senior Evyn Carrier, a Western Michigan University recruit. “The last time we played, she had 14 or 15 points in the first quarter. We knew we couldn’t let that happen. We made sure to come out energized.
“It was a little rough at the start, but we switched things up, got our composure and then just really put our foot on the gas.”
The win puts Sycamore (17-11) one step closer to the conference title at 11-1.
The Spartans play Kaneland on Thursday looking to avenge their only conference loss before wrapping up I8 play against Plano.
“(Kaneland) is a big one for us,” Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said. “It’s kind of our revenge game. We’ve had that circled for a while. We’re playing a lot better basketball than we were back in early December. The seeding comes out Thursday, so the girls will have a little extra excitement that day when we find out where we end up in our sub-sectional. I like that we’re playing our best basketball right now heading into the playoffs, which is what any coach’s goal is.”
The Spartans played solid defense Tuesday, allowing Ficek to score on a drive to the basket with 1:14 left in the first quarter before shutting her out the rest of the way.
“I thought Lexi played awesome on her and I thought the rest of the team responded really well by communicating and making sure they took care of their responsibilities on help side and when we switched off,” Wickness said.
Despite Ficek being limited, the Cavaliers kept it close in the first quarter. Behind six points from Bailey Pode, L-P trailed just 13-10 after the first eight minutes.
Pode finished with nine points for L-P (15-11, 9-4) but no one else scored more than four.
“They had No. 10 (Carlsen) face guarding (Ficek) the whole game and everybody helps,” L-P coach Adam Spencer said. “Everybody’s sagging off. We needed somebody else to make a couple shots. You have to have somebody help relieve some of the pressure.”
Entering the second, Sycamore made an adjustment to get the 6-foot-4 Carrier the ball in the high post.
It paid dividends immediately as she scored in the paint on back-to-back possessions.
On the next trip down the court, Carrier got the ball in the high post and kicked it out to Carlsen, who quickly swung it to Mallory Armstrong for a 3-pointer that gave Sycamore a 20-10 lead.
“We were chucking up a lot of 3s at the beginning,” said Carrier, who missed the first meeting with L-P. “Clearly we weren’t shooting very well, so he put me inside for some more ball movement and for me to face up and be able to see the court. I’m 6-4, I’m comfortable in the paint. As soon as I’m in there I’m able to do a lot more for my team whether it’s passing or scoring myself.
“We were able to work the ball. I can see them when I’m facing up. I can him them on a backdoor. I can screen for them. It’s just more action out of it.”
Carrier, who finished with a game-high 19 points, also showed her abilities on the perimeter as she drained a 3-pointer – one of her three in the game – with 2.5 seconds left before halftime to give Sycamore a 29-14 lead.
The Spartans extended their lead to as many as 30 in the third quarter as the Cavs managed just three points in the period.