By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
When the NIC-10 regular season ends and the IHSA playoffs begin, nine of the 10 teams in the conference will be split into two regional assignments in class 3A and 4A.
As the Rockford Auburn Knights continue their impressive run, the IHSA class 4A regional that will take place in their gym is starting to look like the Auburn Invitational.
The 3A regional will take place in Marengo, where three of the hottest teams in the conference will gather, with only one of them making it out. Rockford East, Freeport and Belvidere are all playing great basketball and have a regional title on their mind.
Each team made their statement over the weekend after seeds came out, and picking a favorite is becoming impossible.
The No. 2 seed, Belvidere, had one of the most impressive performances of the weekend. They overcame 29 points from Rockford Guilford’s Juwann Hubbard with 22 points from Quinten Canty, 20 from Kane Steger and 19 from Darious Brown in a 90-81 victory over the Vikings.
For much of the game, the story was the brilliance of Hubbard. The Guilford senior got off to a slow start, but after some early hazing from the Belvidere crowd, Hubbard ran off 12 first-half points, helping the Vikings take a halftime lead.
“I tip my hat to Juwann Hubbard, great individual,” Belvidere Head Coach Aaron Pearson said. “All week, we talked about what he could do out there. He did a great job … I give him all the credit.”
What turned the game in the second half for the Bucs was the brilliant play of Canty. The only starting senior, Canty played a great floor game on both ends before taking over with 13 points in the fourth quarter.
“Tonight, especially in the second half with his defensive presence and getting to the free-throw line and attacking, he did a great job out there,” Pearson said of his leader. “I can’t tell you how great he has done this last month being a leader out there and really getting the team on board. He really wants it out there, and it shows — just the look on his face.”
Another key for the Bucs in the win was the improved play of Brown. The junior forward had 12 of his 19 in the fourth quarter and is a major key for the Bucs moving forward.
“We keep telling him it’s confidence, confidence,” Pearson said. “I don’t think he understands how good he can be. I think when he realized it, there is going to be more nights like this.”
For the regional, Rockford East will be the top seed and, along with the Bucs, have earned a bye in the first round. East, which topped Belvidere North over the weekend, will play the winner of the Blue Thunder and Freeport.
Freeport will have the best player in the regional in Luke Norman, and is coming off a 62-47 dismantling of Boylan. The Pretzels split with East and won their only meeting with North so far with one more matchup coming Feb. 18.
“Having to play a conference team for a third time is always extremely difficult, whether you beat them two times or not,” East Head Coach Roy Sackmaster said of seeing their conference foes in the regional.
Belvidere will get to spend one game out of the conference, playing the winner of a game between Marengo and Crystal Lake Central. For the Bucs to emerge from the regional, they know exactly what they need to fine tune.
“We’ve been talking about it all year, taking care of the ball and rebounding,” Pearson said. “We’re streaky. On a given night, we’re doing one thing and then the other, but in order to get our ultimate goal and win the regional, we have to be consistent.”
From the Feb. 15-21, 2012, issue