RICHTON PARK | Thornton's boys basketball team had one wish for Christmas.
"The guys really want to play Marian," coach Troy Jackson said. "They may beat the brakes off us, but the guys want to play them."
The Wildcats will get their chance to play the Times' top-ranked team by virtue of a 71-67 win Saturday over Bolingbrook in the semifinals of the McDipper, coupled with Marian's 63-43 win over Joliet Central. Thus, the McDipper's defending champion Spartans (9-1) will meet the region's most successful entrant in Rich South's 41-year-old holiday tourney.
Thornton has won the Dipper seven times, four times since Jackson became the Wildcats' coach.
"I've been coaching Thornton 11 years, and we've been in the championship six times," he said. "It would be great to win No. 5."
Thornton (7-3) earned its title game berth with a scrappy win over Bolingbrook (8-2). Justin Taylor and Jamani Pierce shared scoring honors for Thornton with 25 each, though Pierce did most of his damage in the first half while Taylor scored 21 in the second.
"It always seems to happen like that," said Pierce, who scored 16 of his points in the first half. "I'll take (the scoring focus) early and he'll take it late, or the other way around."
Marian waltzed past the Steelmen (9-3) in a fashion to which the Spartans have become accustomed. Kentucky-bound star Tyler Ulis led the way with 13 points, 12 assists and five rebounds, and went to the bench for good with 1:38 to play in the third quarter.
At the Dipper, they've won their three games by more than 20 points per.
"That's good," Ulis said. "Last year, we played a lot of tough games, I played a lot of minutes. At the end of the year, my legs gave out a little bit."
Marian coach Mike Taylor estimated his starters have averaged 16 minutes per game at the Dipper. He suspects they'll go longer against Thornton.
"I think, Troy and me, we both see a lot of similarities between the teams," Taylor said. "Tough-minded kids, they get after it on defense — it's going to be a war. It should be a really fun night."
Especially for Ulis and Justin Taylor, teammates on the Meanstreets AAU squad.
"We've been talking about this game all summer," Ulis said. "I really want to get Thornton back. My freshman year, they beat us by 20-plus. ... I can't wait to get out there."
Against Joliet Central, Ulis opened the scoring with a 27-foot three-pointer to beat the shot clock. Upon leaving with the Spartans up 50-25, he was 5-of-8 from the floor, hitting 3-of-4 three-pointers, and didn't get to the free-throw line.
"That's a typical Tyler night," Mike Taylor said. "He still passes up too many shots. ... But that's why the kids play with the energy they do. They know he's going to get them the ball."
Terrone Parham had 12 points and John Oliver and Josh Cohn eight each to back up Ulis.
Thornton's win came with more difficulty. Bolingbrook scored eight straight points to go up 65-63 with 1:28 left, but the last of those points came on Preston Mays' dunk after which Mays received a technical for hanging on the rim.
Justin Taylor hit the two technical free throws, and after getting fouled by Josh Dillingham hit two more to put Thornton up. Bolingbrook tied once more on a Mays bucket, put Pierce got a put-back with 22 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 69-67 lead.
Bolingbrook's Prentiss Nixon, who'd hit four of his first seven three-point shots, got a good look on his eighth off a set play after a timeout with 12 seconds left, but the ball rattled out. Justin Taylor got the rebound and closed the scoring with two more free throws.
Crete-Monee 53, Perspectives Charter 52: Tyler Williams' 13 points and six rebounds led the Warriors (8-3).
Trailing 38-32 after three quarters, Crete-Monee outscored Perspectives Charter 21-14 in the fourth quarter. Mike Nelson added 11 points.
Crete-Monee plays Leo at noon Monday for the consolation championship.
Chicago University 67, Seton Academy 57: The Sting (3-8) trailed 31-11 at halftime, but outscored the Maroons 46-30 in the second half.
Christopher Seaton led the Sting with 20 points.