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12/22/12 Zion Zion Benton's Taylor Burford (24) makes a pass of the ball to Paige Freudenberg (20) as she falls to the court during their basketball game against Stevenson Saturday afternoon. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media

In the first half of Saturday’s game, Hall of Fame coaching legend Tanya Johnson heated up the entire Zion-Benton High School gym by herself.

That’s how much steam was coming out of her ears.

But in the end, it was the Zee-Bee players who heated up, erasing a 21-16 halftime deficit with a dominating performance that produced a 48-35 win over Stevenson that pretty much wrapped up the North Suburban Conference Lake Division title for the winners.

Zion (11-2 overall), which has never won the NSC Lake — even in 2011 when it finished second at state, it was Libertyville that won the league — is now 7-0 in the division and has beaten 5-2 Stevenson (9-5 overall) twice.

All of that from a team that was so disinterested in the first half that Johnson wound up calling three timesouts during a 60-second span of action in a futile attempt to remind her girls that game time was 2:30 and not 3 o’clock.

Stevenson led by five at the half, but after intermission, the Bees came out, scored the first 12 points of the third quarter and held the Patriots to 3-of-24 shooting from the field.

In other words, the Bees looked finally like a team capable of a deep run when March Madness for girls starts in six weeks.

“There were some leaders in the locker room who stepped up (at halftime),” said Johnson. “If they’re the only ones busting their rear ends out there, they have the right to say something. So most of it was really handled before I even got into the locker room.

“Sometimes, we just don’t look very good at all,” the coach added. “Today, we were playing Stevenson’s game, and we were getting beat playing it. They slow it down, play really deliberately on offense, and that’s just not our style. Our intensity was there in the second half. We were more aggressive defensively.”

The coach praised the play of guard T.T. Maggett, who battled Stevenson star Kari Maggett for four quarters. “I thought T.T. Maggett did a great job on Moffat,” said Johnson. “We’re still learning to be calm under duress. We have to have confidence in our defense.”

Next up for Zion is the prestigious Montini holiday tournament, that features the three-time defending Class 3A state champs. Play there begins on Wednesday.

“We’re looking forward to it. That kind of competition is going to help us get ready for the end of the season.” said Zion’s Rodriguez, a three-year starter.

As for Saturday’s win, she admitted that “It feels really good to (sweep) Stevenson in the conference. That’s something we haven’t done. They always have good teams.”

On the other side, Stevenson coach Tom Dineen — like Johnson, a Hall of Famer who has 750 career wins — saw his team’s nine-game winning streak snapped. The Pats are 9-5).

“Our first four games we played some of the best teams in the state (Rolling Meadows, Mother McAuley, Marian Catholic, Zion-Benton). Even if we had played well we might not have won any of those games,” he said. “After that, we switched up our personnel a little bit and started playing more man-to-man. Consequently we played nine games in a row where we were holding teams in the 20s and 30s. Our defense turned it around for us, and that helped our scoring.

“Today, we sort of reverted back to our old ways. We were switching in situations where we shouldn’t be. We weren’t aggressive enough when they dribbled the ball out top. We let them have the baseline. There were too many things that added up to us not doing what we needed to do.”

The coach praised the effort of Paige Freudenberg. “I thought Paige just played her butt off,” Dineen said. “She was all over the place. She really competed for us today.”

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