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Neuqua's Jabari Sandifer passes to a teammate while being defended by Waubonsie's Bryan Jefferson in Aurora on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. | Mike Mantucca ~ For Sun-Times Media
Losing its first game of the year, 55-49 at Metea Valley on Jan. 12 after a program-record 15-0 start, Neuqua Valley got some perspective from its senior point guard, Jabari Sandifer.
“It’s definitely [good to play Waubonsie Valley right away after the Metea Valley loss],” he said. “We still have to [focus on the road ahead]. The [Metea Valley] game is over.
“We just have to go out and focus on Waubonsie now. It’s gonna be a good game, too. It’s gonna go down to the wire, so we just have to prepare for them now.”
Scoring just six points in the teams’ first meeting, a 59-46 Wildcats’ victory on Dec. 1, perhaps he felt he had something to make up for as Neuqua welcomed the Warriors to town last Friday.
Tallying a team-high 25 points against Waubonsie Valley, Sandifer was the driving force behind Neuqua Valley pulling out a 50-47 victory to stay atop the Upstate Eight Valley standings, earning him Sun-Times Player of the Week honors.
As Neuqua Valley’s leader both on and off the court, there’s no doubt that it’s the Western Illinois-bound Sandifer that holds the key to coach Todd Sutton’s offense.
Saying from the start of the season that his 6-1, 165-pound point guard would go down as one of the best to ever don the Neuqua Valley uniform, Sutton hasn’t had a lot to worry about concerning his team.
“Jabari’s just Jabari. He just makes it all happen,’’ Sutton said on Jan. 9 after Sandifer notched a game-high 17 points in the Wildcats’ 58-48 victory at Bolingbrook. ‘‘He makes everything better for us. We have no worries when he’s got the ball. He just does the right thing all the time.’’
After rattling off a 3-1 record at the Hononegah King Classic, the Wildcats have a 19-2 record, already surpassing their win total from last season.
Expectations for Sandifer and the rest of his teammates now shift to trying to win an Upstate Eight championship and regional title.
Through 21 games, there’s little doubt that both of those goals are well within reach for the Wildcats, with their placement within the Class 4A Bolingbrook Sectional coming on Feb. 7.
‘‘We’re playing good basketball,’’ Sandifer said. ‘‘I mean, we had a slip-up in our only loss [at Hononegah King Classic to Mundelein] earlier [Monday], but we got back into it this last game [against Hononegah] and we got the win.”