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Neuqua Valley's Trevor Davis leads a fast break against Pleasure Ridge High School on Saturday, December 29, 2012 at the East Aurora High School Holiday Tournament in Aurora IL. | Terence Guider-Shaw~For Sun-Times Media
Kentucky power Pleasure Ridge Park spent the first three days of the 47th annual East Aurora Holiday Tournament torching the nets.
The Panthers entered Saturday night’s tournament championship game against Neuqua Valley averaging a robust 72.7 points per game, using relentless pressure to harass teams into turnovers and easy baskets.
They didn’t find it so easy to do on Saturday, however, thanks to Neuqua Valley senior point guard Jabari Sandifer.
Sandifer deftly handled the press and dished out eight assists to lead the Wildcats to an impressive 67-55 win. Neuqua enters 2013 with a spotless 14-0 record.
“We’ve got Jabari,” Neuqua coach Todd Sutton said. “You have no worries [with him on the court]. We’re not going to turn it over. He takes care of the ball. We like to slow down and execute. When we slow down and execute, we’re very good. They go about 200 miles per hour. We want to go about 65. When we go over 65, we’re no good.”
Pleasure Ridge Park (10-4), of Louisville, jumped out quickly, taking a 10-4 lead. But it didn’t take Neuqua long to wrest away control of the game. The Wildcats went on a 15-2 run to take a 25-12 lead early in the second quarter and were never seriously threatened again. Darien Miskel scored six of those points, Pat Kenny scored four and Sandifer drilled a three-pointer.
Neuqua led 33-26 at the half and then opened the third quarter on a 13-4 run featuring four points each from Kenny and Trevor Davis to push the lead to 46-30. The Panthers were used to turning teams over and getting easy baskets all week, but that never materialized until the final minute of the game, when it was far too late to affect the outcome.
“We don’t think the other teams play defense as well as us,” Sandifer said. “We hold pretty much every team to low scoring games. We had to keep them from running. That’s how they get their points. They press, get turnovers and get layups. We handled the press and stopped them in the half court. I liked the challenge.”
Kenny was the recipient of many of Sandifer’s passes. The first-team all-tournament selection led all scorers with 19 points in the win. Sandifer was named to the second team. Pleasure Ridge Park’s LaMontray Harris scored 11 points and was named the tournament’s MVP.
The Wildcats survived a stiff test to win the title and remain unbeaten, though Sutton cautions that there is much more work to be done.
“I thought coming in that it would be extremely competitive and we could lose some games,” Sutton said. “We came in to play good teams, and we did. That’s what makes you better. That’s a phenomenal team over there and we beat them up pretty good.”