Smith, Simeon go to state again
From the outside, it seemed as though all of the Simeon storylines revolved around coach Robert Smith.
There was the countdown to his 500th victory, which he achieved in January, and his quest for more city and state hardware in his final season before retirement.
But Smith tried to keep the focus on his players.
‘‘It’s always been about them,’’ Smith said after the No. 1 Wolverines cruised past No. 4 Hillcrest 67-46 on Monday in a Class 3A supersectional at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena. ‘‘I told them from the very beginning this season is still about them. Let’s try to push everything [else] to the side. I knew it would be hard to do . . . but the goal is to win the city and state championship for them.
‘‘I’ve already accomplished those goals. I wanted them to have that feeling.’’
The Wolverines grinded their way to Smith’s eighth Public League title, needing a combined five overtimes to get past Curie and Kenwood in the semifinals and final.
Now they’re heading back to Champaign, trying to give their coach an unprecedented seventh state championship. They’re two victories away, with St. Ignatius up next in the 3A semifinals Friday.
Simeon (31-3) took control from the start against Hillcrest, running off 12 consecutive points to go ahead 21-7 late in the first quarter. Hillcrest got as close as 24-19 midway through the second, but the Wolverines led 34-23 at halftime, opened the third quarter with an 18-3 surge to lead 52-26 and coasted home.
Hillcrest (29-4) starts three players 6-5 or taller and has put that size advantage to good use against most opponents. But Simeon countered with the Rubin twins — 6-9 Miles and 6-8 Wesley — and 6-6 Sam Lewis. The Wolverines outscored the Hawks 30-20 in the paint and 23-13 on second-chance points.
‘‘It just comes natural,’’ Miles Rubin said of neutralizing Hillcrest’s inside game. ‘‘We all have height, so we’re just used to it playing at all levels.’’
Simeon’s scoring was spread around its five starters. Lewis led the way with 17 points, Jalen Griffith added 15, the Rubins scored 13 each and Kaiden Space had nine.
Playing their fourth game at UIC this season didn’t hurt the Wolverines, especially when it came to breaking the Hawks’ trap.
‘‘The big floor helped us spread them out . . . so we could get easy baskets, wide-open three-pointers, because the flow was so good,’’ Smith said.
Simeon shot 8-for-12 (67%) from threepoint range.
Bryce Tillery sparked Hillcrest on both ends of the court with 18 points and four steals. Quentin Heady added 11 points.
But the Hawks couldn’t keep Simeon from heading to state for the 11th time on Smith’s watch.
‘‘It’s a great feeling,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s what we’ve been working for all season, since October, to get back downstate.
‘‘But like I told the guys, we’re not done yet. . . . We didn’t have a big celebration, jumping up and down. They know what the goal is.’’
Downers Grove North 67, Kenwood 47
No. 5 Downers Grove North went on an 18-0 run in the first quarter, and No. 3 Kenwood never recovered as the Trojans won the second supersectional at UIC to advance to state for the first time in program history.
Jack Stanton scored 19 points to lead Downers North (32-3), with George Wolkow adding 12 and Owen Thulin 10. Tyler Smith scored 17 points for the Broncos (28-7).