Al Allen didn't even need to wait for a question to be asked when he saw a reporter approaching him after OPRF's 72-56 home victory over York Friday night.
"Rob Strzemp," said the Huskies head coach. "That's your answer, Rob Strzemp."
Indeed. Strzemp, OPRF's 230-pound senior forward, poured in 33 pointsâ€"21 in the second halfâ€"and helped the Huskies pull away after a close first half and cruise to an easy conference win.
With the Huskies (6-2, 2-1 West Suburban Silver) leading by just four at halftime, Strzemp took over in the third quarter, scoring 12 points as OPRF started the period with a 20-6 run that built its lead to 18.
"York called a Robert Strzemp timeout," Allen said. "They couldn't stop him. He was doing whatever he wanted inside. I've been here a long time and I haven't seen anything like that."
With star guard Evan Hilton sidelined with an injury, Allen said the Huskies were counting on Strzemp to elevate his game.
"Hilton and Strzemp are our two captains, and they were both averaging 20 points a game when Evan got hurt," Allen said.
Strzemp, who hopes to continue playing basketball in college, couldn't have hurt his chances with his performance Friday.
"He's getting some offers from small colleges," Allen said. "He's doing quite well for himself. He's a good student, and he can play somewhere. I'm not saying Division I, but his dream is to play college basketball."
The Huskies built a 13-point second-quarter lead behind Strzemp and Jason Simmons (11 points), but the game tightened up when Allen tried to rest some of his starters before halftime, a move that backfired. York closed the half on a 7-0 run, narrowing the advantage to 33-29.
"I subbed and the bench let us down there the last few seconds of the half," Allen said. "That gave York a ray of hope and gave us some problems we had to deal with in the second half."
Not to worry. The Dukes had no answer for Strzemp's inside post moves in the third quarter, in which the Huskies outscored York 23-10. When senior Tom Severson (seven points) beat the buzzer with a fade-away 3-pointer from the corner, it gave the Huskies a 17-point advantage after three.
Senior Gabe Sims scored 11 for OPRF and senior Howard Boone had six. York was led by junior Nick Zerante's 15 points.
The Huskies stayed one game behind Lyons Township in the WSC standings. LT improved to 7-0 (3-0) with a win over Proviso West on Friday. The Lions beat OPRF 54-43 in Oak Park Dec. 3 and are currently ranked No. 17 by the Chicago Tribune. OPRF was picked to repeat as conference champs by the Tribune, with LT predicted to finish second. The Huskies will get a rematch with LT Jan. 28.
OPRF is now in the midst of enjoying nine days off before taking on Danville in the first round of the Pontiac Holiday tournament on Monday (9 a.m.). The Huskies finished fourth at the tournament last year. Other teams participating this year include Warren, Lake Forest, Lane Tech, Simeon, Curie, Joliet and Peoria-Manual.
Allen indicated that he and his team aren't looking past anyone. Asked how he sees the conference race shaping up, the coach replied: "We have to beat Danville in the first round at Pontiac."