PEKIN - The Normal West High School basketball team saw its difficult run in the 41st annual Pekin Holiday Tournament end Thursday with a 65-52 loss to Lake Zurich in the seventh-place game.
"We didn't play that well," said West coach Brian Cupples. "They are a good shooting team and we weren't able to do enough to their shooters to hang in the game. We dug ourselves too big of a hole and couldn't get out of it."
West seemed out of sync right from the start, falling behind 9-1. Primarily an outside shooting team, Lake Zurich's shooters were able to force the Wildcats' defense out from under the basket while the Bears' big men crashed the boards. Lake Zurich had five offensive rebounds in the first quarter while West only had four total rebounds.
Lake Zurich coach John Zarr felt his team's quick start set the tone for the remainder of the contest.
"(Our coaches) thought the way we approached the beginning of the game really had a big factor in the outcome," Zarr said. "I thought the start was really the key to the game."
The Wildcats were able to neutralize Lake Zurich's rebounding edge early in the second quarter, but they could not stop the Bears' shooting touch.
Lake Zurich guard Austin Scott hit five 3-pointers, including a long 3 late in the second quarter after West had cut the Bears' lead to four at 22-18. Scott's basket, along with a tip-in and two free throws by Jordin Hood, helped extend the Bears' lead to double digits for the first time at the half.
Lake Zurich pushed its lead out to as much as 15 early in the third quarter before the Wildcats' offense was able to respond.
Down 35-26, the Wildcats held Lake Zurich scoreless on three crucial possessions midway through the quarter but their offense was unable to respond with any baskets of its own.
"I thought it was big when we had three possessions early in the third quarter and could have cut (the lead) to 35-32, but instead we turned it over once or twice and missed a layup," Cupples said. "That was huge, because we were still in a hole and it was still early in the half."
West did close to within seven late in the fourth quarter, but the Bears were able to hit most of their free throws down the stretch to stay out of any real trouble.
"We got a little closer in the fourth," Cupples said, "but you have to be perfect when you're down and we weren't perfect."
Matt Poklop finished with a team-high 19 points and Scott added 18 for the Bears, who were 11-for-29 from 3-point range.
Junior center Cody White scored 23 points for the Wildcats to lead all scorers.
The loss dropped West under .500 for the first time this season at 5-6 while Lake Zurich improved to 7-8. The Wildcats were disappointed with their 1-3 record in the tournament.
"I'm frustrated," Cupples said. "I thought we should have come out of here 3-1 and instead we ended up 1-3. I guess now we know where we're at and we have to build from here."