LAKE CHARLES — The next-to-last obstacle between top-seeded University High and another possible Class 3A state title wasn’t the tallest or the quickest.
But fifth-seeded St. Louis Catholic played with plenty of savvy and emotion and had the backing of a large hometown fan base on hand for the 3A semifinal that was part of Thursday’s action at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament.
The Cubs have a way of making would-be upsets turn into wins. And U-High did it again, outscoring St. Louis seven points in the final quarter to notch a 50-41 victory at Burton Coliseum.
“It was a very hard-fought game,” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “I thought St. Louis played great. I thought they had a great game plan. I thought they played with a tremendous amount of heart.
“We knew it was going to be tough, and we knew they would have a lot of fans. To be honest we were excited about that. We thought it would be a great atmosphere, and it was. I’m pleased we were able to stick together to get the victory.”
With the victory, The defending 3A champion Cubs (32-4) advance to play third-seeded John Curtis (25-7) in the 3A title game set for 6 p.m. Saturday. Curtis upset No. 2 Rayville 72-69 in its semifinal also played Thursday.
Wayde Sims shook off a slow start to finish with a game-high 17 points and 10 rebounds. Maxwell Starwood nine of his 13 points in the second-half, including two monster dunks in the fourth quarter as UHS outscored the Saints (22-12) by a 21-14 margin to pull away.
Jalen Johnson also had 12 points for UHS. P.J. Hardy also had 12 points to pace St. Louis, a school making its first tourney appearance since 1998. SLC was the only Lake Charles-based school in the tourney.
“We were right there,” St. Louis coach Rick LeBato lamented. “A couple of trips cost us. We had them spread out but tried to go over the top a couple of times and turned the ball over. We definitely had a chance to get it done.
“They’re a very good basketball team. And the energy it took for us to defend them probably cost us. I think that’s probably why we made a couple of errors on offense.”
The pace certainly favored the smaller Saints early. A layup by Dekeinen Francois at the buzzer off a a pass from Hardy sent SLC into the second quarter with a 9-8 lead.
St. Louis proved it wasn’t going away in the second quarter. UHS took a 12-9 lead to start the second quarter only to see St. Louis tie it on a 3-pointer by Francois. Another 3-pointer — this one by Christian Fontenot — gave the Saints 17-16 lead with 2:45 left in the half. But a layup by Sims sent U-High into halftime with an 18-17 edge.
The Cubs finally got some separation in the third quarter with two free throws by Sims and a 3-pointer from the top of the key by Starwood, making it 28-24. A dunk by Sims sent UHS into the fourth quarter with a 30-26 lead.
U-High took advantage of three St. Louis turnovers in the final quarter. The Cubs got into their transition game just enough to extend their lead to the final margin. Starwood and Sims combined to score 17 of the Cubs’ fourth-quarter points.
“Defensively for us in the second half, and particularly in the fourth quarter, we were able to get them in some traps and use our length to get some deflections,” Spencer said. “I thought that was huge.”
When asked about the title game, Sims noted, “We’ve got to finish it out strong.”