By Jeremy Balan
University High School has leaned on long distance sharpshooting all season, but in the CIF-North Coast Section Division V semifinals against Head-Royce, the Red Devils flipped the script, and it was just as effective.
Countering the Jayhawks’ tight perimeter defense, University instead went inside and scored 46 points in the paint in a 70-51 win on Wednesday at Kezar Pavilion, advancing to face top-seeded St. Joseph Notre Dame in the section final on Friday.
“We always say, ‘We like threes, but we love layups,'” said University head coach Randal Bessolo. “Head-Royce had to chose it’s poison tonight. Last time we played, Matt [Schneider] hit five threes and they didn’t like that, so tonight they took away the threes and we scored in the paint.”
Leading the Red Devils inside presence was a breakout performance from 6-foot-2 sophomore forward Will Carroll, who had a season-high 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field.
“We know if they take away one thing they give you another,” Carroll said. “They knew our shooters and it was an opportunity for me to get more shots and I took advantage of that.”
The 70 points allowed was a season-high for Head-Royce, which lost to University 51-43 on Jan. 29.
“The game was lost for us on the defensive end,” said Head-Royce head coach Brendan Blakeley. “We don’t give up a lot of points, and granted, against better competition we’re going to give up more. They had 38 points at halftime and sometimes that’s a game for us.”
Another calling card for the Red Devils this season has been their ability to go on lopsided runs, but against Head-Royce the lead grew gradually.
“Our goal is to have a relentless push for 32 minutes, and we did that as well as we have all year long,” Bessolo said. “Usually we’re explosive and [make a big run], but tonight it was a battle of attrition.”
Red Devils senior guards Noah Springwater, Zio Enriquez and Matt Schneider combined for 34 points and 10-of-14 University players in uniform recorded points, but while the University offense was balanced, Head-Royce leaned on a pair of seniors.
Ryan Isono and Marcus Byrd combined for 37 points, but the rest of the Jayhawks accounted for just 14.
“We didn’t have a lot of other guys step up and put the ball in the bucket,” Blakeley said. “But with the defense we played and the way that they were shooting, even if we had another one or two guys filling it up it would have been tough.”
The Red Devils won’t have too much time to celebrate, with a showdown against St. Joseph Notre Dame on the horizon. In the regular season meeting between the two, St. Joseph came out on top 65-54, but the Red Devils proved to be more than a worthy opponent, carrying a lead into the fourth quarter in the game.
“It’s going to be so much fun and a great game,” Carroll said. “It’s going to be a revenge game for a lot of us. Just within this team we have a lot of history with them and it’s been a competitive rivalry.”
The teams are also familiar in the postseason, with University crushing St. Joseph’s hopes for a state title last season in the CIF state championship tournament. The frequent matchups in recent years has exposed an emerging rivalry in the Bay Area.
“Last time we played them, they actually promoted that game as a rivalry and sold out the game,” Bessolo said. “When you’re University High School and St. Joe’s, which has won state championships and is the alma mater of Jason Kid, is calling you their rival, I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
Will Carroll – 19
Noah Springwater – 13
Matt Schneider – 11
Zio Enriquez – 10
Chris Mah – 6
Marcus Byrd – 20
Ryan Isono – 17
Connor Scherer – 5
Tim Ellis-Caleo – 5
Two players tied with 2 points