Willis thrives for Maroons against rival Chargers

Willis thrives for Maroons against rival Chargers

CHAMPAIGN — Chanice Willis doesn't mince words when she discusses her junior season with Champaign Central girls' basketball.

It mirrors her approach to the sport.

Willis doesn't want any regrets.

Even though this isn't her final prep campaign, she doesn't plan to hold back.

Willis unleashed 28 points as the Maroons blew by rival Centennial 62-38 on Thursday night at Combes Gymnasium, pushing the host squad back above .500.

"I'm just so ready for the season," Willis said with a smile. "It's going to be epic. I've been preparing for the past six years of (my) life, and this is my time. I plan to take it."

Willis snagged pretty much anything she wanted versus the Chargers (1-8). The speedy guard racked up 18 of her points in the opening half as various teammates struggled with foul trouble.

The Maroons (6-5) reached 10 team fouls with nearly seven minutes to play in the second quarter.

"We knew we couldn't do it," Central coach Pancho Moore said. "She kind of had to lead and take over in (scoring)."

In the latter two periods, the Maroons committed just four infractions. That opened up Willis to produce via passing, rebounding and forcing turnovers.

Her Central pals knocked down 20 second-half points while Willis banked 10.

"I feel like I could've contributed more in assists," Willis said with a laugh. "But I feel like everyone contributes. I'm not the only one on the floor, and I appreciate all my teammates."

Sophomore Morgan Browning potted 13 points for the Maroons, and sophomore Azaria Smith — a Centennial transfer — cashed in 14 points while working mainly in the paint.

Thursday marked Smith's first start for Central. Moore said this was done by design.

"It's one of those things where ... I'm going to let you go try to see if it kickstarts you to playing better," Moore said. "So it did, and hopefully this continues for her."

At night's end, however, the story was Willis.

Perhaps her highlight among many dazzling plays was a second-quarter strip steal of Chargers senior Ashley Kirby beneath the Central net, with the loose ball rolling toward the arc.

Willis rushed out, grabbed the rock, turned and drilled a three-pointer.

"Defense goes to offense," Willis said. "Got to do defense to get offense."

Centennial featured more offensive balance than its crosstown foe, but couldn't get any athlete into double figures.

Juniors Lia Potter and Silvia Du as well as sophomores Bayara McDonald and Alayah Biggers all recorded six points, and Kirby chipped in five.

"(The scoring is) coming from four, six, eight points spread around," Chargers leader Jeff Carleton said. "When you have that and you don't have somebody that can put up 20, 25 a night, it makes things a little bit different."

Carleton did possess such a competitor last season, but Shoente'ra Russell and her 12.7 points per game are now at Parkland College.

Centennial had opportunities to keep things tight in the first 16 minutes. The Chargers played aggressively under the hoop, earning 17 free throw attempts.

They sunk just seven, and Central made that costly down the road.

"We've typically been a good free-throw shooting team," Carleton said. "I just think that would've made it a bit of a change coming out for us in the second half."

The Maroons seek some change of their own. Not from their performance Thursday, but in their recent program history.

Central hasn't won IHSA postseason hardware since 2010 and is on its fourth head coach since that point.

But Moore, whose squad has improved vastly from four victories in his inaugural season of 2015-16, sees the Maroons getting valuable experience from prior losses to state powers Morton, Peoria Richwoods and Normal West.

He views those setbacks leading to positive results in the following games.

The culture appears to be changing for the better.

"They'll run through a wall for you right now," Moore said, "and that's what you love."

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