University High is the defending Class 3A state champion and one of top teams in any classification in the state.
Don’t think for minute that the Cubs (31-4) will overlook fifth-seeded St. Louis Catholic. UHS coach Joe Spencer won’t entertain that thought going into a Class 3A semifinal set for 6:15 p.m. Thursday at the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament.
“St. Louis doesn’t have a lot of size, but they’re a very good basketball team,” Spencer said. “They’re well-coached, they know the game of basketball ,and they’ll have advantage of being in front of a home town crowd.
“It would be foolish for us to overlook St. Louis or anybody. When you get to this point, all the teams left can play.”
The St. Louis-U-High game is part of a five-game semifinal session that starts at 1 p.m. at Burton Coliseum. Another local team, third-seeded Episcopal (31-2), takes on No. 2 Lakeview (26-5) in a 2A semifinal set for 2:45 p.m.
It would be easy for U-High to get caught up in its own hype. This Top 28 appearance gives the Cubs the distinction advancing to the state tourney for three straight years in three different decades.
UHS advanced to the finals from 1983-86 under the late Gerald Furr and from 2002-04 under Ari Fisher. The Cubs were a 2A semifinalist two years ago and defeated Richwood in the 3A final last season.
St. Louis (21-12) is making its third tourney appearance. The Saints last appearance was in 1998 when they lost to Parkview Baptist in the 3A semifinals. There are other contrasts.
The starting lineup for St. Louis is comprised of players 5-foot-10 to 6-2. Christian Fontenot leads the Saints with a 19.6 scoring average. Kelvin Henry is at 15.8 and P.J. Hardy averages 14.9.
U-High counters with a lineup that includes 6-7 Maxwell Starwood and two 6-6 players, Jalen Johnson and Wayde Sims. Sims leads the Cubs with a 17.6 scoring average while 6-5 D.J. White (12.6) and Johnson (12.5) give point guard Skylar Mayes plenty of options for assists.
“For us it always coming down to two things – playing good team defense and rebounding,” Spencer said. “Those things help you control the game.”
Episcopal will find itself on the opposite side of the size battle in its 2A semifinal with a Lakeview team that finished as the 2A runner-up to Riverside Academy last year.
The Gators have three players who stand 6-7 or taller, led by Adrio Bailey, who averages 14.8 points per game. Guard Tivonte Hardy averages 22.7 points per game.
The loss of 6-4 post player Jackson Davis to a knee injury leaves Episcopal with no player taller than 6-3. Spencer Kleinpeter averages 17.9 points per game, while Chris Beckman Jr. (16.3) and Kevin Tripeaux (10.9) are other leaders.
“We’ve played against taller teams before,” EHS coach Chris Beckman Sr. said. “Lakeview has size and so much athleticism. We’ve got be solid all the way award.”