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Geneva upsets Neuqua for UEC title

02/08/2013, 11:30pm CST
By Matt Le Cren

Geneva didn’t make things any easier for an ice-cold Neuqua Valley team Friday night. Geneva pulled out a 54-46 win in the unofficial Upstate Eight Conference title game at Neuqua Valley.

Geneva's Sidney Santos (left) and Sami Pawlak defend against Neuqua Valley's Najee Smith at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., on Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. | Corey R. Minkanic~For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: .

Sidney Santos was playing the post and Geneva was still in shock after losing point guard Michaela Loebel to a torn ACL the first time the Vikings played Neuqua Valley.

The result was an ugly 45-22 loss to the Wildcats on Nov. 23.

Flash forward to Friday night and things were much different. With the powerfully built Santos playing point guard, Geneva upset Neuqua Valley 54-46 in the unofficial Upstate Eight Conference championship game in Naperville.

It was the first home loss this season for Neuqua Valley (24-3), which struggled shooting from the floor and especially at the free-throw line, where the hosts were just 5-for-17.

“Geneva played hard and we couldn’t find the basket,” Neuqua Valley coach Mike Williams said. “We haven’t had one of those games all year and if you’re going to have it, this is the time to have it. Next week, if we do this, we’re done.”

Ironically, if you had told Williams before the game that his team would hold the six-foot Santos and star power forward Sami Pawlak to a combined two baskets, he would have gladly taken it.

Pawlak was only 2-of-8 from the floor and Santos missed all six of her field goal attempts, but they dominated in other ways.

Santos, whose only points came on a pair of free throws, nevertheless had an unusual double-double, finishing with 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Pawlak had 10 points, including a 6-for-8 effort from the line, eight rebounds and two blocks.

“Yes, I would still think that we would win the game [combining for two baskets] because we have teammates who step up and they’re unbelievable when they step up,” Pawlak said. “And we know that we don’t have to do it ourselves. We have so many people who can help us out.”

And Santos seemingly found them all, breaking Neuqua’s vaunted press and consistently finding the open player with precision passes.

One of those passes found Pawlak for a layup that pulled the Vikings (17-10), who had trailed by as many as seven points, within 24-22 at halftime. She then assisted on back-to-back three-pointers by Morgan Seberger to start the third quarter, which gave the visitors their first lead.

“She’s been playing the point for how many games now [since December] and honestly it doesn’t seem like it’s a new position for her,” Pawlak said. “Two people don’t make the team, but it’s so much more comfortable playing together with her because she knows how to move the ball. She had 10 assists so, obviously, she knows how to pass, too.”

Santos dished out four assists in the decisive third quarter as Geneva outscored the Wildcats 19-11 to take a 41-35 lead. After Malia Smith split a pair of foul shots for Neuqua to start the fourth quarter, Geneva answered with an 8-2 run to take control.

“Definitely their traps are hard,” Santos said. “In the first quarter we just fumbled and we were kind of intimidated, but we calmed each other down.

“We wanted it so badly and we wanted a little revenge because the first game wasn’t pretty.”

Seberger led Geneva, which made 20 of 27 free throws, in scoring with 13 points, while Kelly Gordon tallied 11 points and Abby Novak had eight. All three players added seven rebounds.

Allison Hedrick had 15 points, eight rebounds and four steals for Neuqua but fouled out with 1:51 left and her team trailing 50-42. Myia Starks added nine points and Smith had seven points, seven rebounds and four steals.

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