After his team escaped Bloom Trail with a 67-62 overtime sectional title win Tuesday over Oak Lawn, Marian coach Dan Murray seemed especially pleased for forward Kauai Bradley.
The 6-foot junior endured a rough February, missing a couple of games with a knee issue and posting a scoreless outing and a one-point effort in two of the Spartans' earlier playoff contests.
Against Oak Lawn, she was her usual intimidating, ball-hawking presence on defense while at last finding the range on offense. She had 11 points and eight rebounds.
"I was really happy for Kauai," Murray said. "She struggled against Lincoln-Way East (scoring one point in the sectional semis), and I knew she was down.
"But, she was the first one in the gym the next day, working on the things that didn't go her way in that game."
The Spartans have won 10 sectional titles in 13 seasons.
The confidence boost against Oak Lawn couldn't have come at a better time. In Monday's Illinois Wesleyan Super-Sectional, the Spartans (26-4) meet Edwardsville (28-1) and 6-2 Tennessee-bound senior Kortney Dunbar.
Dunbar, a shooting guard averaging 17 points per game, is a matchup problem for many. But Bradley, Marian's tallest starter, would seem to have the speed and length for the assignment.
"Well, I hate to give away too much," Murray said. "But it's a good bet that Kauai will see some time on Dunbar. But, honestly, that's going to be based on what they try to do with Dunbar.
"Fortunately, we've got a lot of athletic kids who are pretty versatile."
The same can be said for the Tigers, who have more than a few similarities to the Spartans.
Edwardsville has won 11 sectionals in the last 13 seasons, and finished second in state in 2012. Last season, the Tigers were 30-0 until losing in the sectional title game to Peoria Richwoods. This season, starting five seniors, the Tigers have outscored opponents by an average of 31 points per game.
Edwardsville had a narrow 49-44 win over Bradley-Bourbonnais in the sectional final.
Before edging Oak Lawn, Marian had won 12 in a row by double-digits. The defending Class 4A state champs start three seniors along with Bradley and Teniya Page, both starters as sophomores on last year's squad.
And, like Edwardsville with Dunbar and its other 17-points-per-game scorer, St. Louis-bound forward Aaliyah Covington, the Spartans have two "star" players – Page and DePaul-bound Ashton Millender.
"But it's a team game – not everybody from the outside understands that," Murray said. "The key is to get the kids to understand it. Our girls do.
"Yes, somebody makes the shot. But who is the kid who set the screen? Who is the kid who reversed the ball? This team has bought into team."
Murray ticked through his list of contributors.
"(Against Oak Lawn) Kauai had a great game," he said. "Dajhae (Mullins) was awesome on the glass. Gabby Cooper has stepped up and made some huge shots. Jerell Matthews has stepped up and made some huge shots. Katie Sedor played great in the regional final.
"We've got some kids who, in other environments, might be the go-to person. It's a credit to both programs."
Edwardsville isn't a two-girl show, either. Kennedy Martin averaged 8 points per game in the regular season, but she has been in double digits throughout the playoffs, including a team-high 17 points in the win over Bradley.