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The stars were out Thursday when Illinois Wolves AAU teammates — Bartlett’s Lance Whitaker and Waubonsie Valley’s Jared Brownridge — met in the Warriors’ 67-49 Upstate Eight Valley win.
Each had five points in the first quarter and nine in the second to lead their respective teams in the first half. Brownridge, though, erupted for 18 more in the second half to tie his career high of 32 while Whitaker was held to four by the Warriors’ team defense.
“Our defensive focus was on (Whitaker) because we knew he was capable of taking over the game by himself and we kind of got away from that (in the first half) because we also knew they had some knockdown shooters,” said Waubonsie Valley center Bryan Jefferson. “In the second half, we had more focus on (Whitaker).”
While Warriors coach Steve Weemer called Illinois-Chicago-bound Whitaker the most “college-ready” player his team has faced this season, he was quick to note, “We have a phenomenal layer in Jared Brownridge as well. And he’s fun to watch.”
Is he ever.
Brownridge came out Saturday and added 26 points in a rout of short-handed Peoria Central, meaning he averaged 29 points-per-game this week.
He will be joining a Santa Clara University team in the San Francisco Bay area that is currently 16-6 but will lose three senior guards (two who start) to graduation.
Is it tempting for his teammates to sit back and watch Brownridge when he gets on one of his tears?
“Sometimes we get caught up in doing that, watching him score all the points he does,” Jefferson said. “Sometimes it’s OK, because he can do that and like carry us like clipboards. But on other days, it’s our job as a team to help him on offense so he can get his rhythm back. (Thursday), he had a nice stroke and nice rhythm.”
Brownridge is silky smooth on the catch-and-shoot, but offers more than that.
“He really did a nice job of changing up his game,” Weemer said Thursday. “They were guarding tight and he got to the rim a couple times and we got some good screens set for him.
“He shot the ball extremely well tonight (13 of 16 from the floor). It always makes coaches look good when guys knock
shots down. He made me look good.”
On the go
Brownridge explained his plan of action. “On the offensive end, I just made sure I kept moving around, kept trying to get open and set screens for others,” he said.
With four conference losses, the Warriors know a conference title is probably out of reach.
“We’re going to try to get second in the conference and build off that,” Brownridge said. “The last three years in the regional we’ve went out in the first round.”
This year they hope to correct that.
On a tear
Oswego East continues to roll, winning its sixth straight with a five-point decision over Batavia on Saturday to pull within one game of the .500 mark (9-10) after an 0-7 start.
The Wolves won despite shooting just 29 percent from the floor. That’s because they made 25-of-27 free throws and attacked the Bulldog ballhandlers relentlessly. Batavia had 23 turnovers in the game but only five were unforced, 18 came on Oswego East steals.
“It shows how mentally tough we’ve become,” said coach Ron Murphy. “We didn’t get fazed (by the poor shooting) and made our free throws. Early in the year, if we’d have shot like that, we would have lost by 14.”
Getting a lift
Oswego East got a lift from two players off the bench Saturday, sophomore post Houston McCullum and junior guard Mike McAllister.
The team was on its way to a 2-of-16 effort from the floor in the first quarter when the 6-4 McCullum came in and finished the period with four rebounds (3 offensive), made one shot and three of four free throws to help keep the Wolves within reach (13-9 heading into the second quarter).
“Houston has had some real good games for us,” said Murphy. “He does a great job defensively of rotating and getting us in the right spot.”
McAllister, who transferred from East Aurora and is the younger brother of Ryan Boatright, brought energy to the floor. He had four assists, four steals and went 4-for-4 from the free throw line before fouling out.
“I’m proud of Mike,” said Murphy, who was worried he might be a little amped returning to East Aurora. ““He creates offense, especially when we struggle to get into our sets. There were a couple times I questioned his shot selection but he played well. He got that fifth foul but he was up on his feet at the end of the bench at the end of the game cheering on his teammates.”
When McAllister fouled out with 2:15 remaining, Murphy summoned junior guard Jeremy Mitchell from the bench for his first appearance of the game with the team trailing by two points.
“I always tell the kids you never know when you’ll get an opportunity to play,” said Murphy, who doesn’t mind going 10 deep. “(Mitchell) did a great job. He got us into our set and we scored in crunch time.”