University High, Walker, White Castle girls seeking state titles _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- University High's Dahlia Johnson (20) is tripped up as she drives between Marksville's Lorielle Greenhouse (25) and Kyra Harris (14) in the class 3A quarterfinal, Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, at University High School on LSU's campus in Baton Rouge, La.

Same time, this year?

It’s a logical question to ask about the University High girls basketball team.

The Class 3A Cubs made history by winning the school’s first state title in girls basketball a year ago.

Now, UHS leads a three-team Baton Rouge contingent into the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 tourney. Walker High of Class 5A and 1A White Castle High complete the group bound for the five-day tourney that begins Tuesday in Lake Charles.

“Some teams lose focus the year after they win a state title,” UHS coach Bonita Johnson said. “I think this group has been more focused to get back to the tournament. They understand there’s a bull’s-eye on their back, and that drives them.”

Semifinal action begins at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday with four games at Burton Coliseum. Sixth-seeded White Castle (22-11) tips off the action for the local group. The Bulldogs, making their first tourney appearance since 2010, face No. 2 Vermilion Catholic (24-4) in the Tuesday’s final game at 7:45 p.m.

Top-seeded U-High (30-2) plays No. 5 Jewel Sumner (29-3) at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Walker (30-5), the No. 2 seed, meets 11th-seeded New Iberia (19-13) at 8 p.m. Thursday. Semifinals are set for Tuesday through Thursday. Finals make up the Friday and Saturday schedule.

Johnson said the moment of realization for the Cubs came after a district loss to Brusly High in January.

“I told them after that one (game) that if it had been a playoff game, they’d be finished,” Johnson said. “We’d be picking up uniforms. End of story. They’ve been locked in ever since.”

This is U-High’s sixth tourney appearance in the past seven years. Motivation for Walker and White Castle comes from other sources.

Painful memories of a quarterfinal loss to Destrehan last year fueled Walker, which makes its first tourney appearance since 2009. The chance to make more history on the 10th anniversary of the school’s only girls basketball title powers White Castle.

“To get so close last year and lose on a last-second shot was really tough,” Walker coach Korey Arnold said. “This group has worked ever since. They knew they never wanted to feel that way again, and that’s pushed them.”

White Castle also needed to exorcize some demons. A double-digit loss to West St. John had most people pegging the Bulldogs as a regional or quarterfinal team. But White Castle came back to beat West St. John twice, including last week’s quarterfinal round.

“I think everybody is excited, but these girls aren’t satisfied,” WCHS coach Tammy Pierce said. “They’ve played with a lot of confidence and poise late in the year. They know what a great traditional White Castle has for boys and girls basketball. Their goal is to add to it.”

Tourney notes

  • Salmen post player Kalani Brown tops the list of college-bound seniors. New Iberia guard Kierra Anthony, a Louisiana Tech signee, is another intriguing prospect.
  • U-High is one of four returning state champions. Salmen (4A), North Caddo (2A) and Fairview (B) are the others. Fairview has a string of eight straight state titles. Salmen has won two in a row.

Warren Easton (4A), Ville Platte (3A), North Central (1A), Lacassine (B) and Summerfield (C) were runner-up finishers in 2014.

  • Class C Epps ends a 40-year drought with its tourney appearance. By contrast, Fairview has appeared in 10 straight title games in Class B.
  • Walker’s Arnold is tourney bound for a second time. The third-year Walker coach led Hahnville to the Top 28 tourney in 2008.
  • Chalk up one for nonselect schools. The tourney features 24 traditional public or nonselect schools. U-High, Vermilion Catholic, Cabrini and Hammond’s St. Thomas Aquinas are the only select schools.