University High hit a speed bump on the road to their Class 3A boys basketball state title defense on Tuesday, but its senior leadership was key as the Cubs managed to fight off an upset attempt by district rival Brusly with a strong fourth quarter to claim a 56-41 win over the visiting Panthers.
“We’ve got four seniors who all start, and they’ve been there before. I think that experience helped us,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said.
It was the Cubs’ third win over Brusly this season, and by the narrowest margin. The Panthers matched them basket for basket through the second and third quarters, and U-High led by only two (36-34) going into the fourth.
Then their big guns, Wayde Sims and Jalen Johnson, led a surge to a 10-point lead. Sims opened the quarter with a slam dunk off an alley-oop pass, Johnson converted a three-point play, and John Jones added his only points of the night on a 3-pointer from the deep corner.
When Spencer Mays scored on a layup off a steal, the Cubs were up 48-38, and with 2:18 left they went into a delay game, icing it on 6-for-6 free throw shooting, four of them coming from Marshall Graves.
“They went on that run, and you know it’s the run that kills you,” Brusly coach Kirby Loupe said.
“We didn’t do anything different than the last game,” Loup said. “We wanted to shrink the court and attack the rim, but you can’t make any mistakes against them. They’ve got a great team.
“We didn’t shoot it efficiently tonight and that’s tough, because they get out and they run.”
It looked like a bad omen when Brusly started the game with three turnovers and a missed layup on its first five possessions, while U-High opened with two 3-pointers by Graves, five points from Sims and four from Johnson, and a 17-8 lead after one quarter.
The second quarter belonged to Brusly, with points from all their starters. The Panthers turned up their defense to cause five turnovers and fought back to trail 24-23 at halftime.
Spencer was obviously not happy with the way his team let the visitors back in the game.
“Brusly’s starting five is really tough,” Spencer said. “They got back into it in the second quarter and then it was a game.
“Sometimes we get off to a good start and then relax a little bit. We stopped going inside-out, and that’s really the key to our team. They were packing it in and you’ve got to go inside-out, and we couldn’t do it. We were just settling for jumpers.”
Brusly was hurt when their leading scorer, Jason Holiday, fouled out with five minutes left in the game. He finished with 11 points. D.J. Jones, who battled Sims all night, added 10.
Jones led the Cubs with 17 points, followed by Sims with 15 and Graves with 12.