Mention University High and John Curtis in the same sentence and the first thought that comes to mind may be the select Division II football final the teams played in 2013.
Curtis, the nationally-known football power, won that one. But a basketball title game for the two schools is a different ballgame in so many ways.
It starts with top-seeded U-High being the favorite and the defending state champion.
Curtis (25-7) an underdog and U-High (32-4) the favorite? Both teams are embracing their contrasting roles.
The Class 3A title game set for 6 p.m. Saturday helps highlight the action on the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Boys Top 28 tournament.
“Before the playoffs, we talked about what it would take to win it (another championship),” U-High coach Joe Spencer said. “These guys have worked so hard over the summer and through the season to get to this point.
“You go in knowing it won’t be easy, and you have to be prepared to give your best effort every time you step on the court.”
Curtis is embracing its underdog’s role for good reason. In 2012, the Patriots upset traditional power Riverside Academy to win a 2A state title.
“They are very good,” Curtis coach Mike Krajcer said of U-High. “They have the reputation that years ago Riverside had. They are the kings of the mountain.
“And we’re just Jack in the beanstalk. We have to go and try to chop down that beanstalk and win. Hopefully we can do that.”
Guards Kai Morgan and Richard Durant set the pace for the Patriots. Durant scored 25 points in Thursday’s 72-69 semifinal win over second-seeded Rayville and averages 18.3 points per game. Morgan, who had 21 in the semifinal win, posts a 17.5 average.
U-High has three players with double-figures averages. Wayde Sims had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the Cubs’ 51-40 semifinal win over St. Louis, right on his 17.6 scoring average.
D.J. White (12.6) and Jalen Johnson (12.5) are the others. With the 6-foot-6 Sims, 6-6 Johnson and 6-7 Maxwell Starwood U-High will have a height advance. Point guard Skylar Mays adds 9.1 points and 6.0 assists per game.
U-High looks to add a new chapter to its legacy that already includes at least three state tourney appearances in the 1980s in Class 1A, 2000s in 2A and now three straight in 3A in this decade. A victory would give the junior-oriented squad the chance to win three in a row, something the 2002-04 teams led by NBA players Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Garrett Temple did not do.
Spencer said the lone reference to the 2002-04 squads was made two weeks ago when the playoffs began. He’s sticking to the matchup at hand now.
“I’m not surprised to see Curtis here,” Spencer said. “A lot of times what it comes down to is which teams are playing the best at the end of the year. Curtis has been playing very well for the last month.
“The two guards (Morgan and Durant) give you a lot to contend with. They shoot the ball well, and they’re extremely quick. The other guys have settled into their roles. And they have other guards who can score and who also are very quick.
“We have to be able to rebound effectively. They shoot the 3 (-pointer) well enough. If you give them second and third chances, you’re making it tougher on yourself.”
Meanwhile, Krajcer is content to invoke images of the 2012 title game.
“I am going to go in with the same mentality I had when we played Ricardo (Gathers, now at Baylor) and that group,” Krajcer said. “They were extremely good and we went in and we had a Morgan kid who played real well for us.
Richard (Durant) was just a freshman then, and he played huge. Hopefully we can overcome that mountain.
“All I can say is we will give it the best effort we possibly can.”