NORMAL – Angelina Giordano drove to the basket, but ran right into the brick wall of Simeon defender Khaniah Gardner.
Aneesah Morrow provided a similar roadblock to Montini Friday.
Morrow, Simeon's 6-foot-1 junior, may impact the game more than any girls basketball player in the state, according to Montini coach Jason Nichols. The younger sister of former Simeon boys star Ed Morrow can shoot threes, is a ferocious offensive rebounder and a locomotive in the open court.
"She could arguably be the best kid in Illinois," Nichols said. "The kid, physically, looks like a sophomore in college. She plays at a pace that you just don't see."
Montini, actually, held Morrow under her scoring average. It still wasn't enough. Morrow went for 22 points and 13 rebounds, leading third-ranked Simeon past second-ranked Montini 48-40 in Friday's Class 3A state semifinal at Redbird Arena.
Simeon (33-3), which won its first-ever game at state in its second appearance, will play two-time defending champion Morton for the 3A title Saturday. Montini, denied a chance to go for its fifth state championship, will play Springfield Lanphier for third place at 11 a.m.
"Our goal is to win city and state," Morrow said. "That's what we're here for, is to make history."
Montini (32-5), meanwhile, was playing in its 10th semifinal since 2008, with four sophomore starters. Nichols' biggest concern facing Simeon was rebounding, and it bore out.
Simeon had 20 offensive rebounds, Morrow accounting for nine of them, and turned it into 18 second-chance points.
Morrow's putback midway through the third quarter broke a 28-28 tie, and Simeon led the rest of the way.
"That was the game, and we knew going in it (rebounding) was going to be the game and we knew it was our weakness," Nichols said. "It is something we've been on them all year about. We never embraced the detail of boxing out. I said we'll lose this game if we get crushed on the boards and we got crushed."
Still, Montini was right there to the end.
Sophie Sullivan, who scored a team-high 12 points, hit a floater to send the Lady Broncos into halftime down 26-21. Giordano and Sullivan 3-pointers sandwiched around a Morrow score closed Montini within 28-27, and Tatiana Thomas split two free throws to tie it with 4:41 left in the third.
"I felt like we were there the whole game," Sullivan said.
Simeon, though, answered with a 7-0 run with Morrow's follow shot and a score in transition. Montini had a scoring drought of 4:26.
"We've been there before, and we're battle-tested. It's nothing we haven't seen before," Simeon coach Jonathan Davenport said.
Gardner added 10 points and eight rebounds and Diamond Stokes nine for Simeon, which won its 18th straight game despite shooting just 32.7% from the field. Simeon's physical advantage inside also got Montini's posts in foul trouble, with Thomas and Taris Thornton both fouling out.
Simeon attempted 25 free throws to eight for Montini.
"All season long we've dominated the glass," Davenport said. "Our bigs always come through. They stepped up today."
Montini closed to 43-39 on a Taylor Charles 3-pointer with 3:50 left in the game, and Thornton split two free throws for a three-point game with 2:47 left.
But Montini didn't score again. The Lady Broncos had back-to-back turnovers with the game hanging in the balance. The Montini had 19 for the game, and shot just 6-for-22 from the 3-point line.
"It's definitely hard to know that we could have won the game," Giordano said.
Giordano is one of four Montini sophomore starters. Of the Lady Broncos' 15 players, 11 are freshmen and sophomores.
But Nichols was quick to put the brakes on the idea that his team is simply set up for bigger things.
"It's really good that we were in this position to compete," Nichols said. "It's just unfortunate because you are never guaranteed to come back here and we kind of let an opportunity get away."
Sullivan, another Montini sophomore, looks forward to ending things on a good note Saturday.
"We're treating it like another playoff game," Sullivan said. "We're not here to get fourth."