CHICAGO HEIGHTS | There was no bragging, trash-talking or posting on Facebook.
The Marian Catholic girls basketball team laughed and shot around Tuesday at practice, but didn't give tonight's opponent, Whitney Young, any bulletin board material.
The Spartans (27-4) face the Dolphins (30-3) at 8:15 p.m. today in one semifinal of the Class 4A state finals at Illinois State's Redbird Arena. The Spartans beat the Dolphins, 63-39, last year in one semifinal, then beat Rolling Meadows 48-47 for the state championship.
"It's a big challenge," Marian senior Dajhae Mullins said. "They are a good team and I know they will be ready to play us. We have to be ready, too."
Marian has 14 consecutive wins and the Dolphins 15. The Dolphins are making their seventh straight final four appearance.
Whitney Young's 6-foot-5 Khaalia Hillsman is averaging a double-double with 13.4 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Taylor Brame and Tanita Allen are both 5-10 and average 9.2 and 8.8 rebounds per game respectively.
"We have to come out strong on defense," senior Kauai Bradley said. "We have to play our game and play hard."
That is what the Spartans have done all year. With a new coach in Dan Murray, the team hit a few bumps, starting with a Dec. 14 loss to Fremd in which Marian blew a nine-point lead with a minute left to lose, 63-62. it was their second game of the day, having played Proviso East at Oswego.
"That kind of sticks out because of the way we lost," senior guard Ashton Millender said. "We let it get away. We missed some free throws and threw the ball away."
It was the Spartans' second loss and they would lose to Class 3A state qualifier Montini at the Broncos Christmas tournament, then to then-No. 1 Missouri and nationally ranked St. Louis Incarnate Word.
"We played well, but we didn't shoot well," Marian coach Dan Murray said of the 60-33 loss. "We played hard, but shot something like 29 percent from the field.
"We had a long season up to that point and then we had a week off and we needed it. We had gone to Tennessee, Indianapolis, St. Louis and then the two games in a day. We left Oswego and the girls ate a Subway sandwich, a pretzel stick and a bottle of water, then got off the bus. I also add, that is not why we lost to Fremd."
Junior guard Teniya Page said the week off was needed.
"We just needed a break," Page said. "I know I needed it with basketball and school and everything. We also had a chance to get ready for the rest of the season."
Millender, A DePaul recruit, agreed.
"It comes down to the total package, from defense to rebounding," Millender said. "We had some tough losses, but we learned from them and we did what it takes to get better."