University High basketball coach Joe Spencer tried crafting a predistrict schedule that would raise the level of his team’s play once the season’s stakes increase.
With the Cubs, the reigning Class 3A state champions, in the final of their first tournament of the season, they were more than up to the task with a 65-35 victory Saturday over Belaire in the 36th Annual Kinsley Tournament at Central High.
“We wanted to challenge them,” Spencer said. “The schedule’s not built for us to go undefeated by any stretch of the imagination. We’re going to see plenty of competition and that will only help us get better toward the state tournament.”
McKinley outdistanced Redemptorist for third place 82-55, while Central was fifth with a 47-46 win over Tara.
U-High (8-0) went from one extreme to another in obtaining its first title of the new season.
Tournament MVP Skylar Mays’ layup with two seconds to play resulted in a 61-59 semifinal win over McKinley. The Cubs jumped out to a 22-5 first-quarter led, held off one serious second-quarter charge before opening as much as a 31-point lead in the final period.
“From where we started last year and to have a chance to play for a championship is pretty good,” Belaire coach Chauncey Moore said. “In the end it’s how you finish, not how you start.”
Jaylen Johnson and Maxwell Starwood led U-High 13 points apiece with DJ White adding 12 and Mays eight.
The Cubs made seven of their nine shots in the opening quarter, grabbing a double-digit lead (15-5) at the 2-minute mark on four free throws from White.
Belaire (9-3) cut into U-High’s sizable lead, forcing four turnovers and keeping them scoreless for four minutes.
Joe Robillard’s 3-pointer and basket Tim Johnson, an all-tournament selection, helped the Bengals get back to within 10 points (24-14) with 3:05 left before halftime.
John Jones sparked a stretch of three straight baskets that Starwood, an all-tournament choice, capped with a power move inside for a 30-14 lead that was cut to 30-19 at the break.
Terrence Johnson, who led the Bengals with 10, was also an all-tournament pick.
“Through it all my kids kept fighting and that’s the name of the game,” Moore said. “In the end you can’t worry about what the other team is doing and keeping fighting.”
U-High open the third quarter with 12 consecutive points to put the game out of reach at 40-19 at the 3:42 mark.
The Cubs forced six of the Bengals’ 18 turnovers with four different players contributing, including dunks from Wayde Sims and Mays, sandwiched around White’s 3-pointer.
“We talk about coming out strong the first four minutes of the third quarter and they did that,” Spencer said. “Either they were going to come back in the game or we were going to open up the lead a little bit. Luckily we were able to open up the lead.”