By Jeremy Balan
LOS ALTOS HILLS — It’s just one point.
Every basketball fan knows this simple fact and it may seem to be basic math, but that’s the only difference between a layup and a shot from beyond the three-point arc.
But when you’re trading baskets with University High School, those points can add up.
Pinewood matched the visiting Red Devils’ run-and-gun pace in the CIF Division V Northern California semifinals, but while the Panthers ruled the paint, University connected on 13 three-pointers in an 81-75 win.
“We call the three-point shot the great equalizer,” said University senior guard Zio Enriquez. “It doesn’t matter if they’re bigger, stronger or more athletic, it levels the game and that’s what we specialize in.”
Enriquez connected on three shots from distance, and had a game-high 26 points, which proved crucial, as the Panthers (23-6) decided they wouldn’t let University standout guard Noah Springwater beat them in the second half.
After Springwater scored eight points and doled out seven assists in the first half, Pinewood junior Solomone Wolfgramm blanketed him the rest of the way. The constant pressure limited his scoring (he would finish with 15 points, but only took three shots from the field in the second half), but also prevented him from distributing the ball to open shooters.
“We’ve got other great players out there and I know they can carry the load,” Springwater said. “They were focusing on me, but they were [pressuring] everybody. We ran our offense, went at them, and got into the bonus.”
The Red Devils (28-6) did get into the bonus early in the fourth quarter, but let the Panthers hang around in the fourth quarter by only making 7-of-18 attempts from the free throw line in the frame.
“I think they actually shot better on three-pointers than on free throws, so I guess we’ll take the threes,” said University head coach Randal Bessolo. “When we win, we’re never disappointed, but in a game like this, in a hostile environment, young guys are going to miss some shots. What’s important is that they learn from it, because we’re not going to be able to afford to miss them next game.”
While the Red Devils couldn’t capitalize at the free throw line, the late Pinewood fouls knocked their three starting forwards out in the fourth quarter, including Wolfgramm and junior Cameron Helvey.
Helvey was simply unstoppable in the first half, leading the Pinewood fast break with 16 points before the half on 8-of-9 shooting. But he fell into foul trouble in the second half, and only took two more shots before fouling out with 5:21 remaining in the game.
“It was tough, but they went down the way they always do, giving it every single thing they had,” said Pinewood head coach Jason Peery. “They didn’t leave anything out on the floor. No one should look back with any regrets.”
Up next on the docket for University is a rematch with top-seeded St. Joseph Notre Dame in the NorCal final on Saturday at Folsom High School.
To say the Red Devils are welcoming a rematch would be a gross understatement, after the Pilots dismantled them 63-32 in the CIF-North Coast Section final just over a week ago.
St. Joseph escaped an upset to unseeded Vacaville Christian in their own game on Saturday to advance to the NorCal final.
Last season, the Red Devils upset the Pilots in the NorCal semifinals, then lost to Branson in the regional final.
“St. [Joseph] sure taught us something last time,” Bessolo said. “Last year, after we beat them in the semis, we celebrated too early and went in against Branson over confident. Because they beat us so bad, we won’t be going in overconfident.”
Zio Enriquez – 26
Noah Springwater – 15
Matt Schneider – 12
Will Carroll – 11
Chris Mah – 8
Dante Fraioli – 20
Cameron Helvey – 20
Solomone Wolfgramm – 18
Kyle Riches – 8
Bradley Naumann – 5