By Jeremy Balan
OAKLAND — When University High School is firing on all cylinders, knocking down down three-pointers at will, they can seem unstoppable, but when they aren’t, they can look very beatable.
The Red Devils showed signs of both capabilities in Monday’s 65-61 loss to host St. Elizabeth in the Martin Luther King Jr. Showcase at St. Elizabeth High School.
At its worst, University (12-5) went through extended cold streaks, including seven consecutive misses from three-point range in the second quarter. The Red Devils shot just over 32 percent from three-point range and 34 percent from the floor, but a staggering 40 of 61 total attempts came from distance.
At it’s best, University’s offensive attack was lethal, but only in spurts. The most important surge came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, when the Red Devils went on a 9-0 run to retake the lead at 57-54 after trailing for the entire second half.
But the shooting dried up again for the Red Devils, as they scored only four points in the final five minutes and allowed the Mustangs (9-5) to put the game away.
University head coach Randal Bessolo was untroubled with the missed three-pointers, but was bothered more with the 6-of-14 shooting performance the Red Devils had at the free throw line and the 20 turnovers they committed.
“It’s the nature of how we play, and we have to be able to work through that,” Bessolo said. “We can accept the cold spells, but we can’t accept all the unforced turnovers and missed free throws. That’s the issue.”
University senior guard Zio Enriquez had a game-high 22 points and fellow senior Noah Springwater added 14, but both experienced extended cold streaks individually as well.
Springwater, at times, was electric, connecting on three consecutive three-pointers in a two-minute span late in the first quarter and early in the second, but after a final three-pointer with 6:45 remaining the the third quarter, he was held scoreless for the rest of the game.
With the ball in his hands, down 64-61 with 5 seconds remaining, Springwater took a contested, leaning three-pointer that fell short, ending any further University threat.
“Whenever Noah is shooting it, it’s a look we’ll accept, but that was a tough look though,” Bessolo said.
After St. Elizabeth missed five consecutive free throws in the final 30 seconds to keep University within striking distance, senior Michael Cunningham hit the second of two free throws with 2 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
St. Elizabeth’s offensive strategy throughout was the polar opposite of University’s, as the Mustangs only attempted two shots from three-point range, but used their frontcourt size advantage to score 40 points in the paint. The Mustangs also capitalized on a dominant performance on the offensive boards to get several second-chance baskets.
“We really pound the boards, especially the the offensive boards, really hard,” said St. Elizabeth head coach Greg Brannon. “That helps. It really does.”
Although the non-league matchup is relatively meaningless in the grand scheme of each team’s season, there is one unfortunate byproduct of University’s loss, according to Bessolo.
“We play these tough games to help us get better, and I think we’ll have these guy’s attention now on a few things we need to work on,” Bessolo said. “The sad thing is that this will probably seed them ahead of us [in the CIF-North Coast Section playoffs], so if we see them again we’ll be back here in Oakland. And frankly, the officials called the game a lot differently than we’re accustomed to. A lot of the turnovers they called wouldn’t be called that way in the City and we were slow to adjust.”
Darius Johnson – 19
Dante Skidmore – 17
Michael Cunningham – 11
Denzil Allison – 10
Aaron George – 8
Zio Enriquez – 22
Noah Springwater – 14
Will Carroll – 8
Matt Schneider – 6
Three players tied with 3 points