It’s youth vs. experience.
Uptown vs. the west bank.
Lions vs. Cougars.
But more importantly, it’s New Orleans vs. New Orleans.
“I think it’s a win win,” said Edna Karr girls basketball coach Jessica Barber.
Karr (23-7), a No. 4 seed plays No. 8 Ursuline Academy (25-5) at 1 p.m. on Thursday in an all-New Orleans area Class 4A semifinal of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Top 28 Tournament at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center.
For Karr, it’s the second trip to the Top 28. The Cougars’ other appearance came last season when they lost to Salmen in the semifinals.
“It’s a testament to how hard our kids have worked,” said Barber, in her fifth season at the Algiers school. “Just because you have the talent to be there doesn’t always mean you get there. You see upsets all the time. But they really dedicated themselves to reaching this part of the journey again.”
Ursuline, meanwhile, is in the Top 28 for the first time since 2009 when they reached the Class 3A semifinals. The Lions also made it to the Top 28 in 1998, 1995 and 1993. Their only Top 28 win came in 1995 when they reached the title game.
Ursuline coach Andrea Williams couldn’t be reached for comment. Williams’ Lions, as a No. 8 seed, are the lowest seeded team to make the Top 28 Tournament in any classification.
Making Ursuline’s run even more impressive is that it has come with a starting lineup consisting of three sophomores (Kourtney Weber, Brooklyn Mitchell and Giordin Johnson), a freshman (Kennedi Jackson) and an eighth-grader (Kiersten Nelson).
Karr counters with a lineup of three seniors (Imani Mulmore, Zharian Maxmillion and Paige Williams) and two juniors (Destanie Johnson and Destiny Collins).
“We are a veteran team that has been here before, and we know what it’s like playing on this stage,” Barber said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think its an advantage. Ursuline has very talented team, and they are just as hungry as we are.”
It’ll be the first meeting of the season between the Lions and Cougars, who represent district 9-4A and 10-4A. They played in a scrimmage before the season began.
“(Ursuline) plays so hard,” Barber said. “Being young, most people think that’s a disadvantage. They have young players who are just die-hard basketball players. They don’t care if we’re juniors and seniors. So I feel they feel a little less pressure because of that.”
The all-New Orleans semifinal matchup didn’t look promising this time a week ago. Ursuline had the tall task of having to beat top-seed St. Thomas More. They did just that, going on the road to claim a 59-55 victory.
Things looked even more improbable for Karr, which trailed Bastrop by 12 points with 2½ minutes left in the game.
“With their backs against the wall, they just refused to lose,” Barber said.
Paige Williams drained a 3-pointer in the final seconds to force overtime, and Karr went on to win 59-52.
“It was a great way to end my last game at home,” said Williams, who is committed to Nicholls State. “Our journey is definitely not done. Now, we want to go back and go further.”
Thursday’s winner advances to Saturday’s 8 p.m. championship game to play the winner of Thursday’s other semifinal game between No. 6 Rayne and No. 2 St. Michael.
Ursuline or Karr will get a chance to continue New Orleans’ dominance in Class 4A.
The past three champions in Class 4A were from the New Orleans area, with Warren Easton winning in 2015 and Salmen going back-to-back the two years before that.
“I’m excited that we are playing someone in the city,” Barber said. “Obviously for my kids, I hope it’s us. And obviously for her, she hopes it’s them. But for the city, I’m just thankful we will have some representation there again.”