The Chi-Hi girls basketball team was without its second leading scorer on Friday evening.
So the Cardinals leaned on their top point-getter as Caelan Givens scored 31 points to help lead Chi-Hi to a 53-45 victory over Eau Claire North on Friday evening at Chi-Hi in a Big Rivers Conference showdown.
Early after halftime it looked as though the Cardinals might pull away from the Huskies. Chi-Hi (9-4, 6-0) started the second half with a 28-16 lead, then scored 10 of the first 13 points after the break to expand their lead to 38-19. But the Huskies wouldn’t go away as back-to-back 3-pointers by Brook Becker and Haley DeSouza plus two free throws from Becker closed the deficit to 11.
“It was really helpful that girls were making shots that cleared up the lane so that they had to respect their shot. Tonight it just so happened to go in for me,” Givens said of her performance.
Eau Claire North (6-7, 2-4) would continue to trim the gap, getting to within as close as four points at 41-37 after a basket from Kellie Smrecek with 7:52 to go. But the Cardinals would respond by holding the Huskies to just two field goals the rest of the way and three made free throws to stay unbeaten in league play and maintain its multiple-game lead in the conference standings at the halfway point of the league season.
Givens was two off her career high of 33 points, a mark she set in a loss at Stevens Point last month. She was three points away from tying the school record for points in a single game (34), but did become the first player in program history with multiple 30-point performances.
“What Caelan does a good job of too is she finds when other kids are open,” Chi-Hi coach Becca Bestul said. “She recognizes her teammates when the defense is coming to double her.”
Sophomore guard Alexis Zenner missed Friday’s game with a sprained ankle, an injury Bestul said wouldn’t keep Zenner out for long.
Despite missing one of the team’s top players, the Cardinals put forth a tenacious effort on the defensive end in the victory.
“I think defensively is where we won the game tonight,” Bestul said. “We came out and played solid defensively. We made (them) miss shots, we got rebounds and we talked about that before the game and we knew that would be a key tonight.”
“Everyone had to pick up their game on the defensive end and we did really well with what North was doing and help each other out,” Givens said.
Chi-Hi trailed briefly in the game, falling behind 4-2 early before Givens’ first six points of the game helped the Cardinals jump out to an 8-4 advantage. Givens scored 17 points in the first half to help push the Cardinals out to a 12-point halftime lead.
Ashley Hanley added 11 points in the win.
With the victory the Cardinals have now won 10 of the last 11 meetings overall with the Huskies. The two teams split their meetings last season, with a Chi-Hi victory on the final night of the regular season pulling the team into a three-way tie for the Big Rivers Conference championship with the Huskies and Hudson, the sixth in a row for Chi-Hi.
Friday night’s win keeps the Cardinals atop the league at the midway point as Chi-Hi returns to action next Friday at Hudson, a team Chi-Hi defeated 70-59 on Nov. 28.