Bulls

High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

641492.png

High School Lites Preview: Playoff action begins

The regular season meets the playoffs on this weeks edition of High School Lites. IHSA postseason action begins in Class 1A and 2A. We will pay a visit to a few schools that are predicted to play basketball into March. Will Seton or Hope Academy be in the mix? Conference titles and bragging rights are also up for grabs in the north, west and south suburbs. Who will gain momentum as March Madness approaches? Here is a snapshot of each game that we will cover on this Fridays edition of High School Lites. All rankings reflect the CSN Top 20, sponsored by The Marines:

THURSDAY GAMES

Girls: Lincoln-Way East (26-4) vs. Marist (31-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Sandburg Sectional Championship

The 26-4 Griffins have many weapons, including Taylor Johnson, Caitlin McMahon and Meaghan McMahon. All three helped East push past Homewood-Flossmoor in the semifinals. Can they reach the Elite Eight? It all depends if they can contain Leah Bolton. The Marist junior forward racked up 25 points and seven rebounds against Marian Catholic on Tuesday. The winner will take on the champion of the Bloomington sectional on Tuesday.

Girls: Whitney Young (30-0) vs. Trinity (30-1), 7:30pm -- 4A Lyons Sectional Championship

Want to know how good Whitney Young is this year? The Dolphins faced Proviso East, a team with ample talent and future NCAA players, and ran out to a 44-17 halftime lead in Tuesdays semifinal. Youngs Janee Thompson, Linnae Harper and Alexis Lloyd all scored in double figures in the 69-34 victory. Trinity, behind DePaul recruit Megan Podkowa, will challenge Young. They advanced by beating another girls basketball powerhouse, Fenwick, 64-45. Trinitys only loss this season? A 62-47 loss to Whitney Young in December.

FRIDAY GAMES

Girls: Aurora Central Catholic (25-6) vs. Quincy Notre Dame (31-1), 6:30pm

ACC will have their work cut out on Friday as they take on Quincy, the defending 2A state champs. Central is paced by four-year varsity standout guard Jackie Cardona. Other state semifinals scheduled for Friday include Leroy vs. Freeport Aquin (12:00pm) and Illini Bluffs vs. Cowden-Herrick (2:00pm) in Class 1A, and Breese Central vs. Stillman Valley (8:15pm) in Class 2A. All state championship games will air on Chicago Nonstop, Comcast 341.

Grayslake Central (21-4) @ 8 Huntley (23-2), 7:00pm

This year's Fox Valley Championship features a Huntley team with a stout defense and one of the most talented sophomores in Chicagoland: 6-6 forward Amanze Egekeze. The Red Raiders are looking to surpass last year's 25-5 team that reached the sectional final. Grayslake Central has a team with senior leadership in center Casey Boyle and guard Jordan Taylor. This will be a great test for the Rams, as they could also face talented North Chicago down the road in sectional play.

Ridgewood (19-6) @ Riverside-Brookfield (21-4), 7:00pm

Will history repeat itself? R-B went into Norridge four weeks ago and walked away with a 71-63 win. Ridgewood couldn't contain 6-7, 220-pound center Miki Ljuboja, who racked up 23 points and 10 rebounds in the win. The Bulldogs also feature talented players in forward Luke Nortier and guard Damonta Henry. Ridgewood has a star in senior guard Andy Mazurczak, who scored 25 points in that previous game. It'll be senior night in Riverside and the Metro Suburban title will be up for grabs.

11 Hillcrest (21-4) @ 20 Lemont (23-2), 7:00pm

The visiting Hawks can win the South Suburban-Blue conference outright. Lemont, who will be looking for a share of the title, will be one of the toughest opponents of the year for Hillcrest. The Indians have a standout point guard in Juozas Balciunas. But Hillcrest is loaded: Jayon'e Troutman, Jalen Loving and Jovan Mooring are all threats with the ball. These two teams could also end up playing each other in the loaded 3A Rich East sectional.

Joliet West (15-9) @ Lockport (16-10), 7:30pm

If there was a matchup of two of the best sneaky-tough teams in Chicagoland, Joliet West vs. Lockport could be front and center on the marquee. Lockport has quality wins this season over Waukegan, at Homewood-Flossmoor and took West Aurora to overtime. The Porters feature Kyle Ward and Courtney Cole on the attack. Joliet West, who beat Lockport 49-48 back on January 27th, has one of the best centers in the conference, senior Marlon Johnson.

19 Seton Academy (23-4) vs. Hales (10-17), 7:30pm 2A ChicagoUniversity Regional Championship

Phew. That was the collective sigh of relief by the entire Seton program Wednesday night as they survived a massive semifinal scare by University High, 72-64 in double overtime. Russell Robinson, Mark Weems, Kamai Shasi, Jordan Foster and the rest of the Sting hope the rest of the playoffs are a little more on the smooth side. They will get the defending state champs in Fridays final. Hales advanced by beating St. Francis de Sales 80-60.

Latin (17-6) vs. Parker (18-8), 7:30pm 2A Holy Trinity Regional Championship

Its already one of the best rivalries in Chicagoland. So why not have another meeting where one team moves on and the other goes home? Latin advanced by beating the host school 67-42. Senior guard Chaz Stevenson leads the attack for the Romans. Parker got here by defeating Wells 62-51. Junior guard Langdon Neal should get a lot of looks for the Colonels. Latin beat Parker in triple overtime in December. Parker followed up with a rout of Latin earlier this month. An exciting night of basketball awaits.

Every Friday night, High School Lites will bring you scores and highlights from around Chicagoland. This weeks episode will air at 11:00pm, just after MVC basketball. In addition to the games above, we will check out the 1A regional championship at Chicago Hope Academy (semifinals are on Thursday). Our cameras will also head to Glenbard North High School for our Muscle Milk Team of the Week. At this west suburban school, well introduce you to one dedicated student who is going above and beyond in bringing basketball and cheerleading to new heights. Plus, well take a drive down Memory Lane in our Flashback segment, and well have in-depth coverage of the Simeon Wolverines, who will be featured in our Drive segment, sponsored by Greater Than.

High School Lites streams live every Friday on csnchicago.com.

We invite you to share your story ideas as well. Email us at: csnchicagowebsite@comcastsportsnet.com

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

pod.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Will Kris Dunn build off career night?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Kevin Anderson react to a breakout game from Kris Dunn against the Hornets Friday night. They’ll discuss his development and how it impacts rookie Lauri Markkanen. Plus just how long will both the Wolves and Bulls be judged on the Jimmy Butler trade? Is Dwight Howard a hall of famer? And a new era in Philly with Simmons and Embiid. That and more on this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast.

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Observations from Bulls-Hornets: Kris Dunn, a sigh of relief and hack-a-who?

Kris Dunn did it: You can’t play that position without an edge, without some form of “basketball killer” in you. Kris Dunn showed at the very least, he has that in his DNA in his best game as a Bull with a career-high 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

Leave it to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to point out a forgotten stat: one turnover in 26 minutes.

“That’s the biggest thing I’m proud of,” Dunn said. “Everyone knows I’ve had a lot of careless turnovers in the season. It’s one thing I’ll take credit for.”

Dunn scored 13 with six assists in the fourth quarter alone as the Bulls outscored the Hornets 40-28 for the comeback victory. More than anything, it was his competitive spirit and aggressiveness that stood out. Kemba Walker stood across the way and gave Dunn—and the Bulls—every bit of 47 points.

“He tested my conditioning, for sure,” Dunn admitted. “He’s a great player. He’s been in the league for so long. It was good to go out there and compete with him.”

It could’ve went a different way had Walker not been bothered by Lauri Markkanen’s challenge at the rim, blowing a layup that would’ve given the Hornets the lead back with seconds remaining but he missed it and the narrative changed at least for a night.

And when teams are talking about learning experiences, it’s good to have them in a win every now and again. Markkanen’s challenge at the rim followed by his closing free throws right after, along with a quietly effective 16 points and seven rebounds, proved huge on this night.

Dunn finally having a confidence booster was imperative.

Dunn scored but it wasn’t an easy 20 or a smooth 20. It was an attacking 20, a necessary 20. He did hit some elbow jumpers, especially in the fourth as the defense laid off him.

But his biggest basket was a slithering drive to the rim for a layup with 2:24 left, because he attacked and was under control.

“That’s huge growth for Kris,” Hoiberg said. “He made the right play darn near every time he had the ball in his hands. Rose up with confidence, knocked down huge shots. Defensively got them going, got steals.”

What a relief: Nobody wanted to say it, but it bore out on the floor, the sheer desperation the Bulls played with.

Coming in with a five-game losing streak and headed out west to for four games in the next week, they were staring in the face of a possible double-digit losing streak to end November.

Confidence was sparse after three bad losses, and it’s a dangerous time for a team that will struggle to win games all season.

The United Center crowd got into it, particularly late when the Bulls began climbing back into contention to start the fourth quarter. The fans wanted this win too, even with the eyes being on a larger prize coming in mid-2018.

The relief was written all over Hoiberg’s usually-stress ridden face and he even cracked a couple jokes that weren’t aimed in his direction, as self-deprecation is normally his escape of choice.

“It is important but I asked the guys: is it hard to play with that type of effort? When you play with that type of energy and effort and swagger, it’s fun,” Hoiberg said. “When you play low energy and hang your head, it’s a drag. It’s hard to play at this level with that mentality.”

Starting change: Justin Holiday returned after his quick leave with his wife delivering a baby girl recently and his game-high 27 points showed he missed the Bulls as much as they missed his shooting, hitting four triples and going 10 for 15 from the field.

“Guys were serious about getting their jobs done,” Holiday said. “It was a lot of energy, a lot of energy, competitiveness. That’s how we have to play every night for our team to do well.”

Denzel Valentine, although he didn’t want to say it, wants to be a starter. Hoiberg chose Quincy Pondexter over him recently and then made the change Friday to insert Valentine for more scoring.

Valentine scored 18 with six assists and five rebounds in 32 minutes of run—and with those two starting as scoring options, the Bulls surpassed that seven-point first-quarter mark really early and scored 26 overall.

He hit a big triple in the fourth with 2:49 left to give the Bulls a 110-109 lead on a set play the Bulls actually executed between Valentine, Dunn as a setup man and Robin Lopez as a screen to pop Valentine open.

If he continues to hit 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip, especially with the way the Bulls have struggled to start games, he’ll have the right to feel he belongs in the first five.

“It’s definitely more confidence,” Valentine said. “You feel you’re an NBA starter, you get to go in and feel it out for a second and bring some energy to start the game.”

He didn’t mince words about starting, with a little honesty saying, “I think it’s huge being a starter.”

When asked if he felt validated by his performance and the result being a high-scoring win, it was just as telling.

“I think I deserve…I think I deserved a starting role,” Valentine said. “At the same time it’s different combinations, different people that need to be on the floor at certain times, so if he feels like I don’t need to start, I won’t start. But I feel very comfortable starting as well.”

Hack-a-Dwight: It could be Hack-a-Dwight, hack-a-Drummond, hack-a-Wilt or Shaq or Charles Shackleford.

The Bulls went to it and Howard went two of four from the line but it took a little rhythm from the Hornets and probably slowed Kemba Walker down just enough before he got cooking in the last 90 seconds and almost pulled a win out of his keister.

But…

I hate it. Get it out of the game completely.