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Neuqua Valley's Jabari Sandifer fires a pass over the shoulder of Bartlett defender Justin Busch on Thursday. Sandifer led the Wildcats with 18 points. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
Behind the early, hot shooting of senior guard Jabari Sandifer and a stifling defensive effort, No. 14 Neuqua Valley remained undefeated with a 63-44 victory over host Bartlett on Thursday in a battle of the top two teams in the Upstate Eight Valley.
Sandifer, a Western Illinois commit, finished with 18 points as he powered the Wildcats’ early offense with three three-pointers in the game’s opening three minutes.
Neuqua Valley (9-0, 5-0) never trailed and led by double digits for most of the second half.
“We’ve had a really good start to the season and tonight we played good defense,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said. “I’m proud of the way we came out and defended tonight.”
Despite an ankle injury to senior forward Pat Kenny (10 points), who was cleared to play Thursday by the team trainer as the Wildcats boarded the bus to Bartlett, Neuqua Valley found enough offense.
Behind a limited Kenny, Sandifer and junior forward Elijah Robertson, who finished with a career-high 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting off the bench, Neuqua cruised.
“That was Elijah’s best game of his career, and he really played well on defense too,” Sutton said.
Bartlett (6-3, 3-1) looked out of sync on offense for much of the night and managed only 17 first-half points.
The Hawks played most of their bench in an effort to find offense.
“(Neuqua Valley) is the best team in our conference and we had a chance to make a statement and made the wrong statement,” Bartlett coach Jim Wolfsmith said. “We just didn’t come out ready and prepared to play. Credit Neuqua in part for doing a good job defensively, but we didn’t execute.”
Neuqua Valley held Bartlett senior forward and UIC commit Lance Whitaker (14 points) scoreless in the first half.
“We look at (Whitaker) as an All-State type of player so we wanted to make him work for his baskets,” Sutton said. “We just tried to send multiple guys at him and make it tough.”
Senior guard Marcus Aluquin also contributed 10 points for the Hawks.