By Michael Wojtychiw
It wasn’t looking good for the Phillips girls basketball team in its city championship game against Kenwood when the two schools faced off Feb. 11 at UIC’s Credit Union1 Arena.
Just a month prior, on Jan. 11, the two teams had battled to a two-point Kenwood win, so when Kenwood got out to an 11-0 lead, Phillips having missed its first six shots, mixed with six turnovers, it left not only the crowd, but the players on the court in a bit of shock.
“At first we came, and, I’m not going to lie, we were nervous,” Phillips’ Kamaria Sephus said.
“This is probably the biggest stage any of us have been on, so we were nervous but then knew what we had to do.”
However, once the Wildcats gained their footing, the tables turned.
Sephus went on a personal 10-3 run to to start the second quarter and trim the lead to 16-12 with about two minutes elapsed in the period.
“My coach told me to start going ball side,” she said. “Everything they say is most likely going to work, so I took it all in and didn’t allow anything to get into my head.”
Phillips would outscore Kenwood in each of the following three quarters, even holding the Broncos to a mere two points in the third quarter en route to a 46-38 win over Kenwood to win the girls sophomore city title.
The Wildcats did it with defense, forcing the Broncos into six of them on the Broncos’ first seven possessions of the second half.
“The halftime message was the same one it’s been all year: keep your composure,” Phillips coach Fredrick Baker said. “Regardless of whether we’re up or down at halftime, in the second half, the score is 0-0. I think we were down eight at half and it was like ‘Hey we’re playing bad but there’s still a lot of game left. If we go out, stay disciplined, limit our turnovers and relax, we can come back and fight.’”
Phillips took its first lead of the game when Iycis Harden put in an offensive rebound at the third-quarter buzzer and took the lead for good when she scored off of another offensive rebound with six-and-a-half minutes left.
Phillips has made itself quite comfortable playing on the last weekend of the sophomore season. The Wildcats have played in the title game a couple of times in the past five years, having now won twice.
“It’s all about hardwork,” Stokes said. “The girls fell behind big early but they stayed composed and understood that there was a lot of basketball to play and not getting down on themselves just because Kenwood jumped out to an early lead.”
Sephus scored 16 points to lead the Wildcat, who also got double-doubles from Harden (10 points, 15 rebounds (12 offensive)) and Willis (11 points, 14 rebounds). Amillya Henigan scored a game-high 17 points to lead Kenwood.
“My coach said be a dawg, I have to be a dawg and get the rebounds,” Harden said.