The tide was turning. You could feel it.
After trailing by as much as 20 points in the third quarter, the University boys’ basketball team ended the period on an 8-0 run and cut the St. Joseph Notre Dame of Alameda lead to 40-31.
But the Pilots responded with the form of a true champion, pulling away for a 61-43 win in the CIF Northern California Division V championship on Saturday at Folsom High School. St. Joseph will play for the state title Friday in Sacramento against SoCal champ St. Bernard of Playa del Rey.
The Pilots (26-8) went to their most glaring advantage in the fourth quarter — 6-foot-10 center Brendan Keane. He scored nine of his game-high 17 points in the quarter, punctuated by a putback dunk with 4:58 remaining.
“They used their strength; we couldn’t match in the fourth quarter,” University coach Randal Bessolo said. “We’re trying to guard him with 6-2, 6-3 guys who were tired. That’s the sign of a good team and a well-coached team. They used that advantage to go for the jugular.”
After an eight-point performance against the Red Devils (28-7) in the North Coast Section final last weekend — won by St. Joseph 63-32 — the desire for redemption fueled Keane.
“I knew I could contribute and extend the lead inside,” Keane said. “I definitely wanted the NCS game back, and I got it in this game. I showed I can score on them and contribute.”
As University learned in the first two meetings with St. Joseph this season, it’s hard enough to beat the Pilots with a full team, but they learned it’s nearly impossible without a solid performance from your star senior.
Hampered by a severely sprained ankle that he injured in practice Wednesday, standout senior guard Noah Springwater was held to just two points on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor, including 0-of-7 from 3-point range.
“It doesn’t feel good being in [the press] room first for the second straight year,” Springwater said. “We did everything we could to make the adjustment and we were very much in this game the whole way. As seniors, we always talk about leaving a legacy, but unfortunately, we came up short again, and obviously that’s frustrating.”
Still, Springwater played nearly all of the game, guarding Keane for much of it and drawing three key charges that fueled University rallies.
“Noah only scored two points tonight, but I could not be more proud of the effort [he] put forth ... to come out here injured and lay it all out on the line for his teammates,” Bessolo said.
Even with Springwater at less than 100 percent, the difference was ultimately the Red Devils’ cold shooting, just as it was in their loss to St. Joseph in the NCS final.
University shot just over 25 percent from the floor and 14 percent from 3-point range. Senior guard Zio Enriquez and sophomore Harold Getz were tied for the team-lead with 11 points.
“We didn’t shoot well, but we’ve gotta give credit to [St. Joseph],” Bessolo said. “They have a 6-10 guy and that allows them to extend their defense out on the perimeter. We had some good looks, but I think we were rushing them.”
Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and SanFranPreps.com.