By Jason Maholy
Last season, opposing teams figured out all they had to do to beat Richards was stop Halle Idowu. That’s easier said than done, but triple-teaming pretty much any high school player will at the very least slow her roll.
The Bulldogs surged to a 13-1 start in 2018-19, but sputtered to a 16-10 finish that ended with a first-round playoff loss.
Richards coach Jeff Korst is hopeful a more balanced offense and an intense defense that can wreak havoc with its trap and press will lead to bigger and better things this postseason.
Both were on display last week in a 56-44 win over Lemont that was not nearly as close as the final score might indicate. The win was the Bulldogs’ ninth in 10 games.
After a slow start that saw the Richards holding an 11-7 lead after one quarter, they were all over the Indians the rest of the way. They led 25-17 at halftime and blew the game open with a 15-0 run to begin the third quarter.
Idowu, a 5-11 senior forward who has no equal on the floor in most games, was as usual the star, pouring in 28 points including eight during that third-quarter spurt. But it was the play of her supporting cast, particularly on the defensive end, that served as the catalyst for the run-away victory. Senior forward Mikayla Dove, junior guards Nikki Sobieszczyk and Lilly Moran, and sophomore forward Abby Mallo were part of a swarming press that frustrated Lemont into turnovers that frequently resulted in points for the Bulldogs.
Korst likes the way his team is playing as the regular season heads into the final month of the regular season.
“I thought we got after it. We brought pressure and I thought they played well as a group,” he said. “We moved the ball around, made some shots. Lemont’s a good fundamental team. They know a lot of the stuff we were trying to do and they took away some things, so we just had to keep playing hard and we played hard.
“They always play hard. I love my group. And Halle’s Halle.”
Richards went to a full-court press in the second quarter, and the tactic proved disruptive to the Indians’ offense. The continued to step on the gas after halftime and essentially put the game away with the big third quarter.
“Nikki and Mikayla did a great job; Mikayla was great on the glass, she was on fire tonight,” Korst said. “Nikki hit some 3s and she does a little bit of everything, a lot of good things for us.”
Moran, in her first varsity season, brings an all-around game and is developing into one of the team’s most reliable defenders. She can hit the 3 and get to the rim, and incessantly hassles ballhandlers on the other end.
With Moran and juniors Naomi Jones and Jaelyn Maxey coming off the bench, the Bulldogs have the depth they lacked last season.
“Each person brings us something different,” Korst said. “Somebody’s always doing something to help us. All of them are young, and once Halle gets settled in they kind of jump in with her and see what’s going on.”
Korst said that early in the season, some of his less experienced players too often deferred to Idowu. The hesitancy of players to assert themselves is common on teams with a dominant star, and that can undermine the value of said star.
“They were nervous, thinking they shouldn’t do it and now they’re just doing it,” Korst said. “They’re having some success and it’s going well for us. We’ve got a nice little run going for ourselves now.”
The Bulldogs entered play Tuesday at 12-5, after dropping a 47-42 decision to Lincoln-Way East on Jan. 11.