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Montini tourney field is star-studded, and Z-B girls can’t afford to be star-gazing

Zion-Benton's Krystal Walker  puts up shot during last Thursday wover Lake Forest. | BRIAN O'MAHONEY/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

Zion-Benton's Krystal Walker puts up a shot during last Thursday win over Lake Forest. | BRIAN O'MAHONEY/FOR SUN-TIMES MEDIA

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(In bracket order/records through Thursday)

Neuqua Valley (10-2) vs. DeKalb (6-3)

Rolling Meadows (11-1) vs. Proviso West

Batavia (9-2) vs. Zion-Benton (9-1), 9:45 a.m.

Trinity (11-0) vs. Plainfield East (3-6)

Montini (10-1) vs. Oak Park-River Forest

Palatine Fremd (8-1) vs. South Elgin (6-4)

Huntley (11-1) vs. Geneva (6-2)

Marian Catholic (8-2) vs. St. Joseph (5-4)


Marian Catholic and Neuqua Valley met Saturday for the title the Oswego Hoops for the Troops tournament.

Marian Catholic defeated Rolling Meadows in the 4A State Championship Game in March.

Batavia lost 64-45 to Marian Catholic earlier this week and 68-47 to Morton at Thanksgiving.

Zion-Benton (9-1) has won six in a row after falling to Evanston 60-47 in the Deerfield Thanksgiving tournament.

Updated: January 24, 2014 6:18AM

If the 16 high school teams competing this week in the Montini holiday tournament are the last 16 teams standing in the Class 3A and 4A girls basketball tournaments later this winter, the 2013-2014 playoffs will be heralded as the greatest in the history of the sport.

That goes directly to the strength of the holiday tourney, which starts on Monday morning at Montini Catholic High in west suburban Lombard.

So strong is the field that the Lake County entry — 9-1 Zion-Benton. which is the best Class 4A team in the area — is considered an afterthought, if indeed it’s being thought of at all.

The Zee-Bees play 9-2 Batavia on Monday morning in the Round of 16. If they win, they will play unbeaten state power Trinity Catholic from southwest suburban River Forest. If they lose, they’ll get Plainfield East, one of the only teams in the tourney that currently has a losing record.

The Bees have beaten everyone on their schedule except Evanston, but their resume lacks quality wins.

Nevertheless, Zion coach Tanya Johnson is looking forward to seeing how her girls match up with and how they react when challenged by a state power.

“I really wanted to stay in the tournament because, let’s face it, if it’s not THE best, it’s certainly one of the marquee tournaments going on at Christmas. I don’t think that competition hurts us,” she said. “We just have to go, give it our best effort, and compete, and that’s going to help prepare us for the rest of the year. We’re going to find out a lot about ourselves.

“You always have a lot to learn. When we go out to Montini, we’re going to have things exposed, and we’re going to have to keep working. That’s all we can do.”

Zion leads the North Suburban Conference Lake Division with a 5-0 record, and went 4-1 in a Thanksgiving Week tournament at Deerfield.

And they’ve done it after losing what would have been its best player, plus another starter, to another county school via transfer. That dropped the Zee-Bees so far off the preseason radar screen that they’ve been out of sight and out of mind all year.

“People could have looked at us and said ‘This team is going to be a bottom-dweller,’ but there’s no quit in these kids,” Johnson said. “That’s what I really love about this basketball team.”

Here’s a quick rundown of the Zee-Bee squad:

Tyvena Scafe

The 5-9 Scafe played her freshmen and sophomore years at Waukegan, then moved to California last year where she was forced to sit out a month because of transfer rules. She moved back to the area and has been a major contributor for the Zee-Bees.

She has the skill set to play both guard and forward, as shown by her 22-point, 14-rebound performance on Thursday in which she also racked up four assists and hit three three-pointers.

“I feel like I’m finally where I belong,” Scafe said. “Even though I played with these girls over the summer, it really feels like everything fits right now. Especially since this is my last year, I not only want to go out with a bang, but I want to help my teammates become better basketball players too.”

As for the 9-1 start, Scafe’s not entirely shocked.

“We play as a team. We’re sisters on and off the court. It’s like a big family,” she said.

As for areas in which the Bees must improve, Scafe sounded very like a future coach when she noted that, “We have to work on being more patient on offense. We get a lot of good shots off, but we also rush a lot too.

“It’s an honor to be able to play in a tournament with the best teams in the state,” she added. “We know we have to bring our ‘A’ game, but we also can’t get caught up in who we’re playing. We have to approach them like it’s another game.”

Krystal Walker

Walker, a sophomore guard, continues to grow as a player after emerging as a varsity contributor last season.

“We’ve gotten off to a good start (this season). We play as one,” Walker said. “That’s one of the big reasons for it. We have our bigs down low boxing out, and we feed it to them when it’s there. We attack the basket, and our shots are falling.”

As for playing on the biggest of stages this week, she said, “We have a lot of work to put in over Christmas break. This is a big tournament with a lot of good teams, but if we continue to play as one, I think we’ll do well.”

Other Zee-Bees

■ Junior forward Mia Yarbrough was rested Thursday against Lake Forest after a 28-point performance against Stevenson on Tuesday.

■ 5-10 sisters KeShayla and Ashanti Barnett, along with Warren transfer Auri Hampton, are capable, athletic post players who allow the Zee-Bees to play with a bigger lineup when needed.

■ Point guard Shania Thompson started for Zion two years ago as a sophomore but was held off the team last year for reasons unrelated to basketball talent. Like Scafe, she’s become a savvy guard with a good sense of where the ball needs to be. She had five points and six assists on Thursday in a blowout win over Lake Forest and has the ability to cause havoc on the perimeter defensively.

■ Last year, Carly Fernandez suffered a broken nose, then returned wearing a mask only to suffer an ACL injury. She bombed home two threes in the first quarter on Thursday and picked up four steals on the other end of the floor.

“She’s finally getting back into it,” Johnson said after the game. “Tonight was the first time I thought she really showed that quickness. When she gets the ball, she can knock it down.”

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