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Metea's Lori Obendorf (25) and Katie Lawrence (23) go up for a rebound against Neuqua's Bryce Menendez (22) and Allison Hedrick (23) in Aurora on Friday, Jan. 11, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Neuqua Valley is like a crocodile that lies in the weeds waiting to pounce on its prey.
Friday in an Upstate Eight Valley division showdown at Metea Valley, the Wildcats bided their time until about six minutes remained in the third quarter.
Najee Smith had 14 points and seven rebounds and Allison Hedrick added 13 points and seven steals as No. 16 Neuqua Valley (18-1, 7-0) earned a 60-43 victory over Metea Valley.
The Wildcats broke a 25-25 tie in the third quarter with a 21-7 run to coast to the victory.
“It’s an understatement to say we came out flat at the start of the game,” Smith said. “We set goals before the season, and basically we went into the locker room at halftime and said the way were playing we’re not going to get there. We had to turn it up and pick up our intensity.”
Metea Valley (15-4, 5-2) overcame an early 9-3 deficit to take a 14-12 lead on a basket by sophomore Nia Flowers with 6:38 remaining in the second quarter. Two free throws by Katie Lawrence with 55 seconds left in the half gave the Mustangs a 24-22 lead at the break.
But it was all Neuqua Valley in the second half.
“At halftime, all I said was, ‘Let’s go please. Let’s go please. Pretty please,’” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “I was begging them pretty much. But you’re always worried about an emotional letdown after a big win (Tuesday against Wheaton Warrenville South).
“This was one of those trap games,” he added. “You can tell them whatever you want about conference, about winning, about how they (Metea Valley) needed this win to stay alive in the conference. Two losses kind of hurts them a little bit, but no matter what you say kids are kids.”
A rebound basket by 6-foot-2 sophomore center Bryce Menendez (nine points, seven rebounds, three blocked shots) capped a 12-2 run midway through the third quarter that gave Neuqua Valley a 39-27 lead a little over five minutes into the second half.
“That’s what I love about this team,” Williams said. “They realize what they need to do. We don’t have to scream and yell. The biggest motivation was the scoreboard. We just say here’s your challenge. Can you be a different team in the second half?”
Najee Smith’s three-pointer with 2:52 remaining in the game extended the lead to 55-33.
“We had some games coming out flat,” Smith said. “It’s just that we need a little bit to get us going. It took us the first half unfortunately in this game. But we used the first half to push us forward to play harder in the second half.”
Six-foot-2 center Lori Obendorf had 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots for Metea Valley, which hurt its cause by making just 11 of 27 free throws.
“Our biggest problem we just didn’t adjust to the game,” Obendorf said. “We didn’t play our game, we played their game. We knew it was coming, we knew they were going to swarm us, we knew we were going to get fouled. We just didn’t adjust to it.
“Instead of trying to look for a wide-open shot, we all tried to go up and force things that weren’t there,” she added. “We need to make better decisions.”
The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak for Metea Valley, which was playing just its second game without 6-2 senior forward Anna Petersen (torn ACL).
“One of the problems with this game was we didn’t play as a team,” Obendorf said. “The last 11 games on our winning streak, we played as a team, every game. This time the hype of the big game, we just let it get to us, let it get to our heads. That was kind of our demise.
“If we just think about the team instead of ourselves, it would be better for the future,” she said.