KEZAR PAVILION — Bruised up and bleeding, the University High School boys’ basketball team exited their locker room after their Saturday night game “exhausted.”
“If you look at our guys, we had bloody noses, scraped eyes and bruised arms,” Red Devils head coach Randy Bessolo said. “It was a super-physical dog fight, and you need a tough team to survive that.”
While University left battered, it did not leave beaten. Edging Foothill High School, 69-63 in double overtime at Kezar Pavilion, the Red Devils will now advance to the regional finals of the CIF Division III state championship tournament.
“We’ve got a dog that may not win the dog show but we got a dog that’ll win the dog fight,” Bessolo said. “I couldn’t be more proud of their toughness tonight.”
It was University’s second overtime game in a row, after the Red Devils took two extra periods to beat Mountain View on Thursday. Prevailing with a 61-57 win over the Spartans, University advanced to the quarterfinals for the second year in a row to take on the No. 13-seeded Foothill Cougars.
Despite having some pre-game jitters, according to Bessolo, the Red Devils jumped out of the gates on a 7-0 run to start the game. The University defense would play a large role in the opening stretch as the Red Devils forced four straight Foothill turnovers.
Bouncing back from the slow start, Foothill did not fold under the pressure and instead battled back to close the first quarter only down 19-13.
The Cougars would also outscore University 12-9 in the second, making it a three-point game at halftime.
For the Red Devils, their largest concern was containing Foothill forward Josiah Hutt. University identified the Cougar senior as their primary focus defensively, as Hutt entered the game averaging a team-high 18 points per game.
“Our number one thing tonight was to guard him well,” Bessolo said. “And we tried.”
With 11 first half points, Hutt hit three of his eventual four 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes of play. He would finish the contest with a game-high 25 points and seven threes.
“Most of them were NBA range threes with somebody in his face,” Bessolo said. “On a lot of those plays, we did our job: We made him take a tough shot. We just got to salute him. He’s a heck of a player.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Red Devils were stifled by the Cougars defensive attack, which aimed to take away forward Max Fried.
Crowded and double teamed, Fried looked very much out of sorts and was forced to put up tough, contested shots under the basket. Foothill also opted to foul Fried sending him to the free throw line 10 times in the game.
“As soon as I got in the paint, they crashed down an extra guy,” Fried said. “It’s tough to finish over that.”
As Fried struggled to find success against the Cougars’ defensive strategy, University needed someone to take the reins from a scoring perspective.
That person would be Charley Moore, the Red Devils’ senior forward, who used the attention that Fried was drawing to his advantage.
Moore scored 13 of his team-high 22 points in the second half after making the adjustment to the Cougar’s game plan.
“To be totally transparent and honest, I didn’t even know I had 22 points in the game,” Moore said. “When the ball came to me, I was able to score. My team gave me opportunities.”
After four quarters of play, University and Foothill had decided nothing, knotted at 52. It was time for the first overtime.
Junior point guard Christian Heng, who had white gauze handing out of his nose after being fouled on a drive to the basket during the game, opened the extra period with a triple from the right wing to give the Red Devils a three-point advantage.
Moore would then follow it up with a coast-to-coast layup off of a defensive rebound to make it a five-point cushion. Foothill responded well, though, utilizing Hutt once more as he hit another deep three.
Foothill would go on to score another two at the end of overtime to force a second extra period.
Drawing six fouls in the second overtime, University shot 11 free throws to help outscore Foothill 12-6.
“If you look at our guys, they’re nicked up,” Bessolo said. “We don’t care, win anyway. And we won anyway.”
With the win, the University moves on to the semi finals for the second time in school history. The last time was in 2015, when the Red Devils made it to the CIF Division V state finals against Sierra Canyon.
“In eighth grade, Max [Fried] and I went to the state championship when University played,” Moore said. “We said that we wanted that to be us one day. And in order for that, we had to win today.”