LANSING | With the holiday season in the rearview mirror and the playoffs still a month away, teams out of contention for conference crowns spend the final month of the season setting goals to keep the players working hard and hopefully improving.
For the Illiana Christian's girls basketball team, a tantalizing Class 2A draw in the state tournament has coach Dave Bosman encouraging his players to hone their skills for the possibility of a strong postseason run that would belie their overall record.
For Elmwood Park coach Brian Linhart, two of his late-season goals for his Tigers were reached Thursday against host Illiana Christian.
The Tigers, behind 18 points from junior guard Joanna Bukowinski, defeated the Vikings 39-37. The win avenged an earlier loss to the Vikings and was the first time the Tigers (6-12, 2-4) had defeated the Vikings since Illiana Christian joined the Metro Suburban Conference in the 2009-10 season.
With the loss, the Vikings fell to 2-5 in the Metro and 7-12 overall.
"We got a bad start, early," Bosman said of the loss. "And we knew that (Bukowinski) is one of the best shooters in the league. (Ade Maron) and (Olga Lipiszko) shot well for them, also, and it is hard to stop three good shooters."
The Vikings battled back from a four-point first quarter by pounding the ball inside. The Vikings took the lead late in the third quarter on a basket by Jaclene Bonnema off a pass from Megan Knapper.
The Tigers countered the Vikings' inside play with their perimeter shooting. The Tigers hit four 3-point shots in the second half, including one by Lipiszko that gave the Tigers a 38-35 lead with less than four minutes to play.
The Vikings cut the lead to 38-37 off another Knapper-to-Bonnema scoring combination with 28 seconds left in the game. The Tigers, who had tried to drain the last two minutes of the clock with each possession, managed to get Lipiszko to the line, where the perimeter threat made one of two free-throw attempts with six seconds left in the contest to put the Tigers ahead by two points.
The Tigers' Becca Schmidt then stole the inbound pass after a Viking timeout. Schmidt was immediately sent to the line, where she missed the front-end of a bonus situation. The Vikings rushed the ball upcourt, with a desperation shot by Kylie Van Roekel for the win missed the mark at the buzzer.
"Normally, we don't do a good job of handling the ball," Linhart said of his teams ball control in the final minutes. "Normally, we give the ball to Joanna and everybody is standing around, but tonight everyone played smart. We got better as a team this game."
The Vikings were led by Bonnema's 12 points. Knapper added eight rebounds, two steals and two assists, while teammate Mallory Fulton contributed seven points, two assists and two steals.