LAKE CHARLES — University High coach Bonita Johnson laughed for just a second when asked the question every defending champion loves to hate.
“Pressure? Sure, there’s definitely pressure,” Johnson said. “We’ve heard it since last year. If I had a penny for every time somebody asked me ‘Are you going to repeat?’ or ‘Can you do it again?’ I’d be a rich woman.
“We know we’re fortunate to be in this position. Now it comes down to one game.”
The top-seeded Cubs (31-2) face No. 3 Mansfield (30-3) in the Class 3A title game that highlights Friday’s schedule at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tournament.
Game time is 8 p.m. at Burton Coliseum. The Class C final between top-seeded Summerfield (32-6 and No. 2 Pleasant Hill (19-14) is at 4 p.m. Lacassine (30-5), the No. 2 seed, meets fourth-seeded Stanley (33-5) in the Class B final at 6 p.m.
Last year’s run to the 3A title was a breakout season for U-High. The Cubs are making their sixth appearance in seven seasons but won the school’s first state title in basketball.
Mansfield seeks that same kind of breakthrough and got off to a good start with a 60-44 victory over No. 2 Ville Platte in its semifinal game. It was a contrast to U-High’s 53-47 win over No. 5 Jewel Sumner.
Coach Kendra Neal’s Wolverines last made it to the tourney in 2007 when they lost to another Baton Rouge team, Capitol, in the 3A final. Mansfield lost to U-High 66-53 in the quarterfinals last season.
“We remember them for last year,” Neal said. “They have a lot of the same players, and they’re big. We’re going to have to box out and keep them off the boards. We’re at our best when we’re able to run with the ball. They like to run too, which is going to make it interesting.”
Mansfield point guard Ashlyn Jacobs turned in the top individual performance of the tourney through two days. Jacobs made 10 of 21 shots and finished with a game-high 30 points along with three assists and three steals. She averages 20.1 points per game.
Alanie Fisher scored a team-high 14 points for U-High in its semifinal win. The Cubs got a welcomed lift from Chelsea Verrett, who added 13 points, including seven in the final quarter.
Post play will be a point of emphasis for Johnson. Top scorer Destiny Ephrom, who was saddled with foul trouble early and did not score in the semifinal. Ephrom averages a team-high 14.2 points per game.
“It’s about trust for us,” Verrett said. “We all trust each other to get the job done, no matter what it is. My role is to give the team whatever we need, whether it’s scoring, rebounding or defense.
“When somebody gets down, we know somebody else will pick it up. I know they (post players) feel like they have something to prove.”
Both teams have something to prove for that matter. Mansfield seeks its first state title in girls basketball, just like U-High did last season.
“Getting the chance to not only be here, but to win a state title means so much,” Neal said.
“This group isn’t done, they know what’s at stake,” Johnson said.
It’s a new era in Class B. Lacassine knocked off Fairview, winner of the previous eight Class B titles, in Wednesday’s semifinal.
The Cardinals lost to Fairview in the last three C title games. Stanley, making its second straight tourney appearance, lost to Lacassine in the semifinals.
Though Stanley is a relative newcomer, several of its players are not. Post player Sara Housley and guard Michee Alexander were part of the Class C title team for now defunct Pelican in 2012.
In Class C, Summerfield is coached by former Hosanna Christian boys coach Randy Carlisle.
Summerfield was the runner-up a year ago.
Pleasant Hill last won a Class C title in 2007.