By Jeremy Balan
University High School’s season has been largely characterized by a high-paced, high-scoring offense.
The Red Devils averaged over 67 points per game and, in their wins, averaged a 21.5 point margin of victory.
University puts up points, everyone knows that, but it was a seven-minute scoring drought that was the difference in the Red Devils’ 62-44 loss to Branson School of Ross in the Division V Northern California Championship game on Saturday at Folsom High School.
After carrying a 24-18 deficit into the half, University went cold, missing its first nine shots from the floor in the third quarter, fueling a 15-0 Branson run.
“We played defense. We wanted to contest everything,” said Branson Head Coach Bob Donlan. “Right out of the gate in the second half we contested everything. We made it difficult for them.”
University went on a 7-0 run to end the quarter, cutting the lead to 39-25, but would not get the deficit back to single digits.
Even though the run put the Bulls up for good, University Head Coach Randal Bessolo felt the battle on the boards was the key, where Branson out-rebounded the Red Devils’ 41-20.
“We’ve been undersized all year long and, surprisingly, this is the first time we’ve been out-rebounded like that,” Bessolo said. “Yes, we had a little dry spell, but they won [the game] with their size on the boards.”
University spoiled a standout performance from junior forward Noah Springwater, who had a game-high 23 points and tied a Division V championship record with five made three-pointers.
“Big players step up in big games,” Bessolo said of Springwater. “He was absolutely terrific. Clearly Noah gave us a lot to be proud of today.”
Springwater was the lone offensive threat for University, as no other Red Devils players finished with more than seven points. Even with the burden of carrying the offensive load, Springwater shined, making often improbable contested shots fading away from the basket.
“It’s tough to come this far and come up a little short,” Springwater said. “It’s a team game and one team has to lose and one team has to win. Unfortunately we came up short.”
Three Branson players scored in double-digits led by senior point guard Tyler Gaffaney, who had a team-high 20 points to go along with seven rebounds.
“Tyler is a great player. He works harder on his game than anybody around,” Donlan said. “To see him play the way he played today, with a tough defensive assignment on Springwater. We were able to get comfortable with the ball in his hands.”
Branson also got a lift from senior center Marco Viti, who had 14 points off the bench on 7-of-8 shooting.
University will lose two seniors in guards Eli Wald and Zach Karrasch, but will return next season with a playoff-tested team featuring nine upper-classmen.
“We had a great season and our two seniors provided so much leadership,” Bessolo said. “With their leadership, we were able to accomplish a lot, but the reality is that we had a very young team and to get all the way to the NorCal finals is really a tribute to the character of all of these guys.”