Just over three weeks ago, the University High boys basketball team found itself in unchartered territory.
Not only had the Cubs’ 33-game district winning streak been snapped, but they lost consecutive league games for the first time in five years.
Since completing the first round of District 6-3A play in a three-way tie for first place, University — which has won the past three Class 3A state championships — has emerged over the second round as the district's hottest team.
Not only have the Cubs (26-4, 10-2) won six consecutive games by an average margin of 24.8 points, they’ve locked down a share of their fifth straight district title and need a win in their remaining two games to claim the championship outright.
U-High (26-4, 10-2) hosts Baker (23-4, 8-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday and travels to West Feliciana (14-12, 6-6) on Friday.
“Our district’s always really tough, and I think that really helps us heading into the playoffs every year,” coach Joe Spencer said. “It’s been a while since it came down to this final week. It’s what makes playing these games so much fun.”
Baker’s development into an upper-tier team in the district has helped create a topsy-turvy season. Five teams led or were tied for the district lead until U-High’s second-round emergence was led by the scoring of guards John Jones (15.1 points per game), Spencer Mays (13.5) and Eric Reed (12.6).
In its first matchup with U-High, Baker overcame an eight-point, third-quarter deficit behind center Dexter Dennis, who scored 15 of his 17 points in the final quarter — including a key 3-pointer with 44.3 seconds left — for a 70-68 victory.
“We talk about not getting too down after a loss or too high after a big win,” Spencer said. “They stayed even-keeled and stuck with the process. They knew they still had a shot. They still controlled their own destiny if they continued to get better.”
District 6-4A showdown
The race for the District 6-4A title is as tight as possible before Plaquemine (24-7) visits St. Michael the Archangel (23-5) in a battle of 7-1 teams. Tip-off is set for 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Plaquemine, the defending league champion, defeated St. Michael 62-44 on Jan. 27.
“I don’t think our kids handled the physicality of the game very well the first time,” St. Michael coach Drew Hart said. “Since then, at the end of every practice we’ve spent 20 minutes where the defense hand-checks, pushes and traps. We’ve gotten used to handling physical, fast play.”
Since the last time they met, when Plaquemine’s Keandre Randall had a game-high 38 points, St. Michael has won four straight, while the Green Devils were tripped up 66-63 by Tara.
The Warriors escaped last Friday with a 66-63 win over the Trojans, doing so without leading scorer Treylan Sibley (fourth-quarter ankle sprain) and three players who fouled out.
Sixth man Brandon Bourgeois (8.5 ppg) is expected to start in Sibley’s place Tuesday, joining a lineup that features forward Evan Ragusa (12) and guards Trent Schiller (10) and Mike Alfred (10).
If his team is to have an opportunity to win the school’s first district championship, Hart said slowing Randall is of paramount importance.
“If we guard him and we’re in his face, and he can score 38 points again,” he said, “I tip my hat to him, and they deserve to win.”