CRETE | Officially, Times No. 3 Crete-Monee won the Southland Conference title outright Tuesday, when Bloom Township beat Rich South.
But there was nary a mention of that title before the Warriors took to their home court Thursday against that same Bloom squad. Nor did it come up during the game, or after — until a reporter introduced the topic.
"We acknowledged that we were technically the champs," senior point guard Lex DeBose said of a private moment prior to Thursday's contest. "That doesn't mean we didn't want to finish out these games. We want to be undefeated in conference."
With a 74-44 thrashing of Bloom (10-14, 4-4), only a Feb. 13 contest with Rich South stands between Crete (19-6, 9-0) and that goal. Now that Warriors seem to have gotten out of their own way, that is.
"The girls did a good job of holding a lead, finally," Crete coach Christina Cobbins said. "It's been our identity to start slow and finish strong, or start fast and let up.
"I played a lot of players tonight, and I got energy out of every one of them. We're finally understanding what our identity has to be to represent this conference as champions, moving into the playoffs."
And that identity is?
"To play in control from start to finish," Cobbins said. "We have to play an inside-outside game. We have to dominate the boards and we have to take care of the ball. And we have to defend."
Against the short-handed Blazing Trojans, the Warriors checked most of the boxes on that list — though the outside portion of their game was unnecessary, given the ease with which they scored inside.
With DeBose (12 points, seven assists, three steals) finding Desiree Jackson and Marsha Howard for layups in the first minute, the tone was set. Crete made 11 of its 17 field goal attempts in the first quarter to grab a 24-10 lead.
Howard, playing in front of a coach from the University of Wisconsin, finished with a team-high 22 points on 11-of-15 shooting. Ashley Henry added 13 points and nine rebounds, most of those on the offensive end.
"Lexi is getting the ball in those scorers' hands," Cobbins said. "She gets overlooked a lot. But, physically, she's one of the strongest point guards in the state. For us, it all starts with Lexi."
Bloom, which dressed eight players after losing Danielle King and Anika Johnson to ankle injuries in the win over Rich South, got a spectacular effort from Ariana Dampier. Driving fearlessly into Crete's trio of 6-footers, the 5-8 junior had 26 points.
Despite her efforts, Bloom got no closer than 14 points in the second half.