Eric Sun/Special to the S.F. ExaminerForward Sean Gillmore (23) and University High aren’t tired yet despite playing 34 games this year — the 35th comes Saturday in the NorCal Division V final.

Eric Sun/Special to the S.F. ExaminerForward Sean Gillmore (23) and University High aren’t tired yet despite playing 34 games this year — the 35th comes Saturday in the NorCal Division V final.

University still running and gunning, aims for trip to state title game

The University High Schools boys’ basketball team is about to play its 35th game of the season, an exceptionally long schedule that includes a staggering nine postseason contests.

With such a grueling campaign under their belts, it’d be easy to assume that fatigue is beginning to take its toll on the Red Devils, particularly for a team that plays at a breakneck pace every night.

Those assumptions, however, would be wrong.

“This is what we prepare for going into the season,” University coach Randy Bessolo said. “This program has the experience of playing these very long schedules, so, fortunately, we know what to expect this time of year.”

Bessolo’s Red Devils (27-7) will be playing Brookside Christian of Stockton (26-4) in the NorCal Division V final at American Canyon High School on Saturday at noon. It marks the third time in the past six years that University has advanced to the NorCal Division V final. The second-seeded Red Devils will be looking to advance to their first state final since 2002, and first under Bessolo’s tenure.

But they face a major roadblock in fourth-seeded Brookside Christian. The Knights, San-Joaquin Section Division V champ, shocked top-seeded Stuart Hall in triple overtime Tuesday, winning an exhausting contest 97-93. Brookside Christian features four double-digit scorers, led by senior Kameron Vales at 17.5 points per game, and the Knights are no strangers to University’s frenetic pace — they average more than 73 points per contest.

“Any team that can beat Stuart Hall is obviously very talented and well-coached,” Bessolo said. “Brookside Christian is quick, strong, aggressive and they have really great guard play. We feel like we can run with anybody, but it’s so important that we make good decisions, knock down shots and we certainly need to rebound the basketball.”

Bessolo loaded his nonconference schedule with quick, talented teams, such as St. Francis, Mission, Riordan, and St. Mary’s of Berkeley as a way to prep for these tough postseason contests. He said University’s biggest asset might be its familiarity with Stuart Hall. A rival in the Bay Counties League West that the Red Devils played four times this season (losing three), mirrors Brookside Christian in many ways.

“Playing Stuart Hall so many times definitely gives us an idea of what to expect from Brookside Christian,” Bessolo said.

Bessolo’s veteran University group includes four seniors and one junior in his starting lineup, and all of those players average double digits. Senior Brandon Lew, who scored 15 points in the Red Devils’ 73-70 win over St. Joseph’s-Notre Dame of Alameda on Wednesday, leads the Red Devils’ perimeter attack and 6-foot-4 senior center Naod Sebhatleab anchors their frontcourt. Senior swingman Brian Palmigiano is a versatile wing threat and junior guard Mattie Mrlik is a lockdown defender.

During his time as the Red Devils’ coach, Bessolo has always turned to his bench, but this may be the deepest, most talented squad he’s had at University.

“No matter how the season ends, I am so proud of these guys, not just for what we’ve done, but how we’ve done it,” Bessolo said. “It’s a real privilege to coach them, and I’d love to see them extend their season by getting to play one more game at the state finals.”

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