HAMMOND — Ursuline Academy, with its starting lineup of three sophomores, a freshman and an eighth-grader, was supposed to be too young to make it this far.
But as Karr found out on Thursday in the Class 4A semifinals, age doesn’t matter.
“I don’t care what their ages are,” said Karr coach Jessica Barber. “Basketball doesn’t discriminate based on age.”
Ursuline proved it once again, putting together a run in the second half that helped them pull away for a 58-50 victory over Karr in the Allstate Sugar Bowl Girls Top 28 Tournament at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center.
The Lions advance to Saturday’s 8 p.m. championship game against No. 6 Rayne. It’s Ursuline’s second trip to the title game and first since finishing as runner-up in 1995, about five years before any of the players on this year’s roster were even born.
Not bad for a team that entered the playoffs as a No. 8 seed. They are the lowest seeded team to make the Top 28 in any classification this season.
Not that any of that showed once the all-New Orleans area semifinal began.
“Once the tipoff happened, I wasn’t really nervous,” said sophomore Kourtney Weber. “The game just comes to you.”
Weber finished with a game-high 20 points and also grabbed eight rebounds for the Lions (26-5). Weber scored eight straight points in the fourth quarter during Ursuline’s pivotal game-changing stretch.
It was a stretch that started late in the third quarter and spilled over into the fourth. The Lions trailed 40-37 with 1:39 left in the third. But they responded by going on a 5-0 run to close the quarter. The run spilled into the fourth quarter and Ursuline had a 52-40 lead by the time the 15-0 run ended.
“This team really plays off each other,” Ursuline coach Andrea Williams said. “Once we go on a run like that, it seems like all five players start looking to score and looking more aggressive. It’s like every point sparks some more energy. Once you get a 10-point lead, you don’t look back.”
No. 4 Karr, which lost in the semifinals for a second straight year, tried to mount a comeback, much like it did in the quarterfinals against Bastrop.
Karr erased a 12-point deficit with 2:30 left in that one. The Cougars (23-8) found themselves in another 12-point hole (54-42) with 2:27 left in this one. They cut it to 56-50 with 41 seconds left, but there would be no comeback this time.
It was that pivotal 15-0 run that did the Cougars in.
“I thought our kid played hard, but unfortunately in the second half we couldn’t get a bucket to fall,” Barber said. “Unfortunately we missed a lot of chip shots and free throws. At the end of the day, I think our kids played with a lot of heart and passion, and I’m proud of them.”
Destiny Collins led Karr with 12 points and Paige Williams had 10.
Williams scored eight of her points in the first half to help Karr take a 28-23 lead at halftime.
Ursuline switched to a box- and-one defense to slow down Williams in the second half.
“I think that really helped us,” said coach Andrea Williams, a former player at UNO. “Our defense gave us momentum for our offense.”
Sophomore Brooklyn Mitchell scored 13 points and had five steals for Ursuline. Freshman Kennedi Jackson and eighth-grader Kiersten Nelson had seven points each. Jackson also finished with a game-high 14 rebounds. Sophomore Giordin Johnson had eight points. Allison Ulrich, one of just two seniors on the roster, gathered a loose ball and scored at the buzzer to end the third quarter to give Ursuline a 42-40 lead in the midst of its run. They never trailed again.
“They grew up a lot tonight,” said Andrea Williams. “I told them the game is 32 minutes. It’s not 16. The first half is over, and the second half you need to make your run. I definitely think they grew up and said ‘we’re going to do this.’ ”