Bossier senior guard Devonte Hall said he never doubted he would end his high school career back in the Top 28.
Even when an inexperienced Bearkats team started 7-5 after consecutive losses to Huntington and Byrd.
But Hall, the lone returning starter from this past season’s semifinals team, led the Class 3A No. 2 Bearkats (26-7) to the program’s sixth straight state tournament and 10th overall, where they will face No. 3 University High (24-7) in Lake Charles’ Burton Coliseum on Thursday at 6:15 p.m.
“I always believed in us … no matter how ugly it got,” Hall said. “God is the focus of my life … and we believed that he’d see us through.
“We’ve got more experience now, and we’re in our groove.”
That groove consists of a 16-game winning streak dating back to early January.
Bossier’s playoff run has been full of nail-biters though as the Bearkats squeaked past No. 31 De La Salle (57-53), No. 15 Parkview Baptist (48-47 in overtime) and No. 10 St. Louis (49-48).
The six combined points in three wins is by far the slimmest margin in Class 3A, and No. 8 Donaldsonville is the only 3A team remaining that’s had one win of fewer than six points (74-69 over No. 17 North Webster).
“Answered prayers … we believe in divine intervention,” said Bossier coach Jeremiah Williams. “We’ve been faithful over the course of the year in building players and building men.
“I hope that has given us a sort of resolve that’s allowed us to settle down and make plays.”
Williams takes no credit for the quarterfinals win against St. Louis. St. Louis’ best free throw shooter had three free throw shots with .8 seconds left trailing the Bearkats by one point – he split the first two, missed the third and St. Louis’ putback attempt went in and out.
“It’s funny because I don’t think we’ve played our best ball,” Williams said. “That’s encouraging and disappointing. We want to be playing consistently good at this time, but it’s encouraging that we’ve survived without our best.”
Bossier will likely need its best against a Cubs’ team that’s won their playoff games by 22, 17 and 20 points.
“They are young, but they are tall,” said senior Malik Dunn, who is tasked with interior defense as Bossier’s largest player at 6-foot-3. “The height doesn’t bother us. We just have to play Bossier High defense that coach Williams’ preaches.”
But the Bearkats’ tough schedule means they won’t see anything new. Bossier has beaten 5A No. 2 Natchitoches Central, 4A No. 5 Tioga and North Webster in its winning streak.
Hall, a 6-foot-2 workhorse that also guards opposing posts, is Williams’ first-ever 20-point scorer in what’s usually a balanced system. The pieces around Hall have gradually improved, pieces like junior Kentrell Hardy scoring 23 points in the quarterfinal win.
“As long as we play defense, the offense will come,” said Hall, who added seven rebounds, and three assists and steals per game. “Nobody really wants to play defense … but it’s simple, defense wins championships.
“Those underclassmen like Kentrell and Travis Manning – they’ve grown so much.”
Hall’s leadership and playoff experience has helped mold a relatively inexperienced bunch. Williams compared Hall’s leadership skills to that of former Bossier guard Jalan West, who has taken a leadership role as a Northwestern State sophomore.
Hall said he and West remain close and he looks up to West.
Much like the Bearkats look up to him.
“The underclassmen look up to the seniors, and we do look to ‘Vonte’ because he’s been here before,” said senior Jerico Moss, who is in his second full season of varsity ball. “He was telling us we were still the best in the city even when we were 7-5.
“Even when we got down, we can’t doubt ourselves.”
“Boxing out” was a familiar response when players and coaches were asked about a key to Thursday’s game, and Williams said the Cubs are an extremely long and athletic group.
Sophomore Skylar Mays is already an LSU commit, and two others are receiving Division I attention.
“This is a young team but they’re disciplined – they’re AAU tough,” Williams said. “We’ll have to do our best to disrupt, and we hope that we can disrupt enough.
“But I’m proud of the way my guys have progressed. Kentrell has stepped up to become a consistent scorer and he’s handled the ball well. Darius Leary has become a solid third scorer as a senior. Malike Dunn has bought into his role in not that he’s a big guy, but he’s been big enough.”