University entered the Class A boys’ basketball tournament with a losing record. That fact, according to Borden coach Doc Nash, is irrelevant.
The only mark that matters now, as the No. 10 Braves (22-3) prepare to meet the Trailblazers (15-11) in the Seymour Semistate on Saturday afternoon, is University’s perfect postseason. No team reaches the Final Four by accident.
“They’ve won just as many games as we have in the tournament,” Nash said. “We’re 5-0 and they’re 5-0. We’re no better than them when you look at it from that aspect. There’s a reason they’re here.”
Both teams are seeking their first semistate title, and much more. The winner will face either No. 6 Lafayette Central Catholic (18-8) or No. 10 Triton (19-5) in the state championship game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at 10:30 a.m. March 23.
The Trailblazers lived up to their nickname, winning their first regional in only their eighth appearance in the state tournament. Their lack of experience and easier route (their regional foes had a combined record of 22-28), combined with Borden’s more impressive record and higher Sagarin computer rating, has raised the question of legitimacy.
Nash can answer that.
“The more I see of them, the more I see a capable team that’s very good.” he said. “People look at their record and automatically assume we should win. Those people are not always the best thing to have around us. People aren’t always the smartest when it comes to basketball.”
Rocket science is not necessary to see the problems University presents. Dominic Dixon, a 6-foot-8 senior center, is a huge headache in the post, averaging 14.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Senior guard Eric Wott (10.2) is a dangerous perimeter threat with 69 3-pointers, and the Trailblazers have allowed only 43 points per game in the tournament.
They have peaked at the perfect time, avenging a 24-point regular-season loss to Tindley in the sectional final. And if they get second-leading scorer Kevin Bates (11.3) back this week after he missed the five tournament games with a concussion, the Trailblazers could be at full strength. His availability will be a game-day decision.
Borden will counter with balance, with all five starters averaging at least 8.5 points. Senior guard Jalen McCoy was the go-to guy in the regional as he scored 17 points in both victories (over Orleans and No. 3 Barr-Reeve).
“They play really well together, and they can shoot the basketball,” University coach Paul Gianakos said of the Braves. “They’re athletic and fairly strong, and they can all handle the ball. I think it’ll be a good matchup.”
Borden is making its second semistate appearance. Nash was also the coach of that 2008 team, but the current players were still in junior high. The Braves will have to rely on Nash’s advice to handle the atmosphere and pressure.
“We’ve talked about nerves and using that energy to be advantageous, not letting the pressure of a ballgame get to you,” Nash said. “Each game you win, the next team is that much better. It’s just another step. This is a group of kids that wants to be here. They play for each other and they’re together.”
The first team to quiet the queasy stomach and focus will have a distinct advantage. Looking ahead, just one step away from the championship game, would be disastrous.
“I’m not even going to think about it,” Nash said. “Our only focus should be on University. As far as playing one more week, I can’t think what it would be like. We’ve never been in that situation. I’m just happy that we’re still playing.”