Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Grubic takes her second chance

Wheaton senior beats Northwood at buzzer as Knights win 47-44

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Wheaton girls basketball coach Jae Hwang described the situation as ‘‘almost identical.” Except that, unlike 13 months ago, Knights senior Amy Grubic buried her off-balance, buzzer-beating three-point attempt Friday to beat host Northwood, 47-44.

‘‘It’s almost like a déjà vu to last year,” Hwang said. ‘‘Last few seconds, this gym, same spot on the floor.”

Last Dec. 12, Wheaton was down by a point when Grubic launched a desperation three; when it didn’t fall, Northwood had the first win of its program’s second incarnation. The Knights avenged that in a big way on Jan. 23, 53-15, adding a little extra spice to what was already a natural geographic rivalry.

‘‘Since they beat us, we wanted to crush them,” Grubic said. ‘‘We crushed them the next time, and then we were like, ‘We’ve got to beat this team, because it’s one of the teams in the county we can beat.’”

In fact, each team provided the other with its only win last season. Wheaton’s struggles this decade — it has eight wins, 152 losses since the 2000-01 season — convinced Hwang that the way to build is through small, attainable goals.

This year’s was to win more than once, and, at 2-6 after Friday, the Knights have already accomplished that. Their first win was a 45-42 squeaker against Einstein Dec. 20. Before the season, Wheaton identified the teams it thought it could beat, then set about preparing to win those games.

‘‘We knew we weren’t going to blow out any teams.” Hwang said. ‘‘We knew our defense would keep us in games, so this is what we prepared for, knowing that any game we were in was probably going to be close throughout the fourth quarter.”

The largest lead either team had in the fourth quarter Friday was four, with Northwood (0-6) on top for most of the stretch run. But the Gladiators missed 15 of 16 free-throw attempts in the final period, including all eight within the final two minutes.

A Megan McGraw foul shot for Wheaton tied the game at 44 with 43 seconds left, and neither team tickled the twine again until Grubic’s final-second heave. She finished with 14 points in support of teammate Irene Neequaye’s game-high 16.

‘‘It’s always exciting when we get a win,” Grubic said. ‘‘In years past, it’s been frustrating, losing game after game after game. Now, every win is amazing. ... It’s kind of nerve-wracking to know that it’s going to be close every game.”

The game was an opportunity for Northwood, just as it was for Wheaton. But for the Gladiators, it will go down as one missed; their third loss of the season by single digits.

‘‘Once we recognize how to close a game and knock those free throws down, we’re going to get over the hump,” head coach Robert Wilson said. ‘‘We’ve still got a young team. They’re going to get it together. We’re right there. We’re on the cusp.”

Freshman Kenia Cole (11 points) and senior Michelle Hutson (10) reached double-figure scoring for Northwood.

Notes: Northwood junior forward Maria Bueno had four points and three rebounds in the first quarter, but left the game in the first half after the back of her head hit the floor while battling for a rebound. Wilson said ‘‘this was going to be her game,” but she was sent home after experiencing dizziness.