Preps Talk

Momentum building as Phillips prepares to make history

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Momentum building as Phillips prepares to make history

Last year, they were a Cinderella story. This year, the slipper still fits—although you may not want to call this a Cinderella story much longer.

Phillips head coach Troy McAllister will lead the Wildcats back to a state championship game this Friday night for the second straight year.

The obvious question: how does this year feel different for McAllister?

"I'm a worrier, especially right before a game," McAllister said. "But with this group I'm just much less worried. Last year I needed to go in with the rah-rah type of speeches. This year, this group is just much more relaxed compared to last year….they come in ready to play. This team just knows what to expect each week and each level of the state playoffs."

The 2015 Wildcats’ approach and focus undoubtedly started at the end of last season, one that saw them on the short end of a 49-28 decision in the 4A title game at Champaign Memorial’s Stadium. They did, though, join the 1982 Robeson Raiders as the only teams from the Chicago Public League to advance to an IHSA football state championship game. The Chicago Public League, for all of its successes in other sports –especially basketball-- have yet to bring home an IHSA state football title.

Phillips has transformed itself over five years from being one of the worst performing schools in the CPL to one of the best. Now, it’s all about finishing. McAllister will never forget what transpired last November after the loss to Rochester. It was an exceptionally long bus ride back to Chicago.

"It was just a miserable feeling," McAllister recalled. "The bus ride was quiet at first until the kids started to get hungry and then they came around. I just remember back and walking off the field and thinking to myself that we just weren't ready. We will be ready this time around."

[CLASS 4A PREVIEW: Phillips vs. Belleville Althoff]

Having his team ready and prepared hasn't been an issue too often for McAllister and his staff. But one of the big turning points for McAllister and Phillips goes back to the 2013 season after a humbling 41-8 loss to Geneseo in the 4A quarterfinals.

"That year we had a false sense of who we were and how good we were. We came off a big win against Evergreen Park and we went into Geneseo all confident and they just whacked us. I walked off the field knowing we didn't prepare the team as well as we should of prepared them. I wasn't going to let that happen ever again."

The following winter, McAllister, along with Athletic Director John Byrne, loaded up the Wildcats’ non-conference schedule with Wing T and power option running teams-- which is generally the offense of choice among Geneseo and several traditional 4A powers. The Wildcats over the past two seasons have played the likes of power running teams in Stillman Valley, Carmel, Naperville North and several others to great success, including a 24-7 win over Geneseo in the quarterfinal round.

So has the city of Chicago gotten on board with the Wildcats again this postseason?

"It's definitely building up," according to McAllister. “Monday was a prime example of how people from all over the city are coming around to us. Everyone who was driving by the practice was honking their horns and cheering for us as they passed by the field. Earlier in the day, I got a call from Jesse Chick at Simeon who wanted to let us know that the Simeon family and everyone in the CPL was behind us and in our corner. That call was really important. I also got a call from guy who lives on the Northwest Side. He's just some regular guy who has been following us all season and just wanted to wish us luck and how excited he is for the state championship game. I also got a call from the Mayor (Rahm Emanuel) wishing us luck."

"In just one day you have it all covered, from the neighborhood to the rest of the Public League, to the North Side and the Mayor. It's a pretty good feeling."

Phillips takes on Belleville Althoff at 7 p.m. Friday. The game can be seen live on CSN+, csnchicago.com/ihsa and via the NBC Live Extra App.

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

Boys Basketball Playoffs begin on busy week of High School Lites

High School Lites is down to the final week of the regular season in local high school hoops as the Class 3A and 4A schools finish up conference play. The boys basketball playoffs have also started as the Class 1A and Class 2A regional championships will be played on Friday night.

The girls basketball Class 1A and 2A state semifinals will also be featured. You can catch all of those games on NBC Sports Chicago on Friday beginning at 11 a.m. with the 1A semifinals. High School Lites will air Friday night at 11 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago

East Aurora at No. 11 West Aurora, 7:00 p.m. -- These two rivals meet for the 225th time. The Blackhawks (20-4, 9-0) won the first matchup by 22 points as they try to finish the season on a 12-game winning streak. 

Jacobs at Dundee-Crown, 7:00 p.m. -- Fox Valley rivals match up as Jacobs tries to go unbeaten in the conference. The Eagles (23-3, 15-0) has been playing very well as they've won 20 of 21 games heading into this one -- including an earlier win against Dundee-Crown. The Chargers (14-11, 10-4) has won seven consecutive games since dropping to the Golden Eagles as they're second in the Fox Valley heading into this one. 

Yorkville at DeKalb, 7:00 p.m. -- The top two teams in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East play in this one. DeKalb (16-11, 11-1) has already clinched a share of the conference title as the team's only league loss has come against Yorkville. The Foxes (17-8, 10-2) knocked off DeKalb at their place on Feb. 3 as they try to win again to get a piece of the division title. 

T.F. North at Lemont, 7:00 p.m. -- Two of the better teams in the South Suburban Blue battle on the eve of the playoffs. Lemont (17-8, 9-3) has picked up three straight wins entering this one. T.F. North (11-9, 9-3) is trying to build some momentum after recent close losses to Hillcrest and T.F. South.

Carmel at No. 10 Benet, 7:30 p.m. -- The ESCC closes out its season with this one. Benet (22-4, 7-1) is coming off a nice road win at Marian Catholic earlier this week. Carmel (17-10, 4-4) knocked off Joliet Catholic during the week as they've been a dangerous team in the ESCC. 

Class 2A Boys Basketball Regional Championships

Leo vs. Marshall, 6 p.m. -- The Lions are the favorites but the Commandos are the host of this regional title game. Leo (20-5, 8-0) has a 13-game winning streak as they won the Catholic League White. Marshall (8-17, 4-5) struggled in the win column but they were a competitive 4-5 in a very deep Public League Red-South. 

Uplift vs. Northridge, 7 p.m. -- This should be an interesting battle as Uplift is playing on the road at Northridge. Uplift (17-9, 6-3) has played an extremely competitive schedule that includes a recent close loss to No. 1 Simeon as Kansas commit Markese Jacobs and senior forward Toraze Dobbs are one of the best combinations in the Class 2A field. Northridge (22-5, 12-0) went unbeaten in the Independent School League this season as they're riding a 13-game winning streak.

Class 1A Boys Basketball Regional Championships 

Aurora Christian vs. Harvest Christian, 7 p.m. -- These two teams play for the third time this season in what should be an interesting regional title game. Aurora Christian (23-1, 10-0) is the host as they only lost to Winnebago this season. The Eagles beat Harvest Christian twice in a six-day span in December. Harvest Christian (18-8, 8-2) finished third in the Northeastern Athletic as they played the second game within two points. 

Class 1A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Okaw Valley vs. Stockton, 11 a.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Okaw Valley (29-5) is making its first state appearance after winning its first regional title in school history. Stockton (31-2) finished under .500 last season (13-15) and had an amazing turnaround that includes a current 15-game winning streak. 

Lebanon vs. Schlarman, 12:45 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- These two teams have combined for two losses this season as this should be a good one. Lebanon (31-1) just won its first sectional title in school history as they've now moved on to state. Schlarman (31-1) is led by junior Anaya Peoples, a Notre Dame commit and five-star prospect in the Class of 2019. 

Class 2A Girls Basketball State Semifinals

Harlan vs. Eureka, 5:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two red-hot teams play in the first semifinal in Class 2A. Harlan (25-6) is riding a 12-game winning streak as this is its first appearance at state for girls basketball. Eureka (28-3) has a 19-game winning streak as they make their first state appearance since 1988.

Marshall vs. Teutopolis, 7:15 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago -- Two storied programs in the state match up in this one. Marshall (20-7) will be making its 21st state appearance as head coach Dorothy Gaters is one of the most storied coaches in Illinois. Teutopolis is making its 17th appearance at state as the Lady Shoes (28-6) seek their first title since 1995. 

Check out the AP boys basketball polls as regular season winds down

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NBC SPORTS

Check out the AP boys basketball polls as regular season winds down

Here is the latest AP boys basketball polls. The girls basketball polls are done with the playoffs underway in all four classes.

Class 4A

School                                 W-L       Pts   Prv

1. Simeon (9)                      25-3      90    1

2. Belleville West                23-2      75    3

3. Curie                                22-3      74     2

4. Danville                           23-2      67      4

5. Whitney Young               22-7     52     T5

6. Normal West                   21-6     28     T5

7. Quincy                              19-4      21     T10

8. Bloomington                   18-7      15     8

9. Evanston                          20-5      14     7

10. New Trier                       22-3       12     NR

Others receiving votes: Moline 11, Niles North 10, Lisle (Benet Academy) 10, St. Viator 5, Naperville North 4, Maine South 2, Rockford Jefferson 1.

Class 3A

School                                            W-L          Pts    Prv

1. Morgan Park (7)                       18-9         88     2

2. Springfield Southeast (2)        22-3         82     1

3. Marian Catholic                        20-4         67     4

4. Hillcrest                                      21-5         57     5

(tie) Springfield Lanphier             22-3         57     3

6. Alton Marquette                       28-0         44      6

7. Centralia                                    21-4          32      7

8. DePaul College Prep                20-6          31      8

9. Champaign Central                  17-7          13      10

10. Decatur MacArthur                 18-8         9        NR

Others receiving votes: Lincoln 6, Burlington Central 6, Bogan 3.

Class 2A

School                                       W-L          Pts     Prv

1. Orr (11)                                 23-4         110     1

2. Warsaw West Hancock      22-2         83       3

3. Pinckneyville                       25-3         76       T4

4. Winnebago                          24-2         75       2

5. Monticello                            22-1         69       6

6. Leo                                        19-5         65       T4

7. Bloomington Central Catholic       21-6         42   8

8. Effingham St. Anthony                    25-3         23   7

9. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley               24-3         12   NR

10. Trenton Wesclin                             24-4         9     NR

Others receiving votes: Eldorado 7, Corliss 6, St. Joseph-Ogden 6, Bureau Valley 5, Uplift 5 Teutopolis 4, Williamsville 3, Quincy Notre Dame 2, Farmington  2, Casey-Westfield 1

Class 1A

School                                      W-L          Pts      Prv

1. Aurora Christian (9)            22-1        108      1

2. DePue (1)                              24-2        85        2

3. East Dubuque (1)                26-3        80        4

4. Annawan                              25-3        75        5

5. Payson Seymour                 26-2        68        3

6. Sterling Newman                 23-4       57        6

7. Colfax Ridgeview                  24-4       48        7

8. New Berlin                             25-3       33        8

9. Cairo                                       21-5       22        9

10. Nokomis                              21-7         9        NR

Others receiving votes: Newark 8, Quest Academy 5, Milford 4, Cissna Park 2. Okawville 1.