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Playing for the first time since Dec. 29, Neuqua Valley took the floor on Wednesday for the first game of 2013 with a nod towards March.
With intentions of returning to Bolingbrook in early March for the 4A Bolingbrook Sectional, the 14th-ranked Wildcats made yet another statement in earning a 58-48 road victory over Bolingbrook.
Stretching their lead out to 25 points late in the third quarter, the Wildcats’ offense was paced by senior point guard Jabari Sandifer.
Scoring a game-high 17 points, the Western Illinois-bound Sandifer orchestrated the Wildcats’ offense beautifully while being aided in the scoring column by junior forward Elijah Robertson, senior center Pat Kenny, senior guard Brad Mikulecky and senior forward Darien Miskel.
“Just like a few of the teams we’ve played recently, [the Raiders] are a running team. We just had to slow the pace down to our pace, control the pace and then just get good shots and knock them down,” Sandifer said. “That’s what we did.”
Showing off his extreme athletic ability with a pair of dunks, including one coming on an out-of-bounds play early in the game, Robertson scored 12 points while the trio of Kenny, Mikulecky and Miskel combined to chip in 23 points.
Defensively, Neuqua Valley (15-0) made life tough for Bolingbrook’s 6-foot-8, 190-pound senior forward Ben Moore by consistently doubling and fronting him in the post.
The Southern Methodist-bound Moore matched Sandifer in game-high honors with 17, nine of those coming in the first half for Bolingbrook (11-4).
“He still got 17, so that tells you just how really good he is. He’s a phenomenal player. Nice kid,” Neuqua Valley coach Todd Sutton said of Moore. “I like his passing, too. He’s a really good team player.”
Pleased with his team’s effort against the Raiders in the second, Sutton added that he thought the defensive performance turned in by his charges during the third was the team’s best all year.
Carrying a two-point lead into the second, the Wildcats turned up the pressure on both ends of the court in outscoring the Raiders 16-6 in the second to take a 34-22 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Sandifer and Robertson led the way for the Wildcats in the first half with 10 points apiece, while Miskel added six in the game’s opening 16 minutes.
“Oh, man [I wanted to provide] energy for sure. [Bolingbrook], they run and get out [on the break] and they’re an athletic squad,” Robertson said. “Personally, that’s the type of games I like the most. I like to
play those type of games and getting dunks and just bringing energy when we need it. It was when we needed it.”
A Sandifer triple with 1:30 left in the first gave Neuqua Valley a 16-15 lead and it would never trail again.
Unblemished through 15 games and eclipsing the program’s 14-0 start from two seasons ago with Wednesday’s victory, the Wildcats re-enter Upstate Eight Valley play on Saturday night at Metea Valley, looking for an encore to its 38-36 home win over the Mustangs back on Nov. 29.
“Well, we’re certainly not looking forward to it. [The Mustangs] are a [good team]. It was a wild game [back in November],” Sutton said. “It was a wrestling match the first time we played. It was a two-point game. They had the ball at the end. It’ll be maybe a little closer this time. It’s just gonna be a war.”