Lakeview and Riverside Academy.
It’s the matchup most Class 2A basketball fans have been clamoring for, even Lakeview coach Josh Hancock.
With Riverside (30-1) considered arguably the best team in the state regardless of classification along with Class 5A Scotlandville, Hancock said he’s been paying attention to Riverside with great interest throughout the season.
“All year long, it was us number two and them number one,” Hancock said. “We actually use that as motivation. Obviously every team wants to end as number one, and that’s been our goal.
“We don’t consider ourselves number two, not by any means. But we knew they are well-coached, and they are a good team. But I do think that when our kids come and play, we are just as good as anybody in the state of Louisiana.”
Junior guard Tay Hardy scored 28 points in the 81-58 semifinals win, and he said the Gators (28-4) are confident heading into in Saturday’s 6 p.m. title game in Burton Coliseum.
“We’re very excited,” Hardy said. “Everybody’s saying Riverside is the number one team, so we want to show them we can play with any team in the state.”
The Gators and Rebels are perhaps the two most up-tempo teams in all of Class 2A, and one can expect plenty of sprinting up and down the floor in Saturday’s 6 p.m. title game in Burton Coliseum.
In the Class 2A playoffs, teams have breached the 80-point mark seven times. The six highest scores came from Lakeview and Riverside.
The Rebels hit the 100-point mark three times, including 129 in its first-round victory against Ferriday.
Lakeview scored 100 in its first-round win against Runnels, and the Gators have scores of 94, 72 and 81 in the playoffs.
North Caddo held Riverside to 36 first-half points in what was a seven-point Riverside lead, but the No. 1 Rebels outscored North Caddo 35-2 in the third quarter en route to a 2A record-tying 65-second half points in a 101-52 semifinals win.
Riverside’s Malik Crowfield (26 points) and Von Julien (21 points and seven assists) led four double-figure scorers, and Herb McGee and Jordan Andrews average in double figures this season along with Crowfield and Julien.
Both teams showcase a lot of speed, but Riverside’s ball movement – whether in the half court or to start a fastbreak – has been particularly troublesome to opponents.
Riverside coach Timmy Byrd called the guard trio of Crowfield, Julien and McGee one of the best underclassmen groups in the country. Riverside officially set a Class 2A state tournament record with 25 assists, although Byrd said his staff counted 29.
“The way these guys share the ball is a testament to how basketball should be played,” Byrd said. “We might not meet the eye test, but our speed, skill and intensity is what makes us who we are.”
Lakeview does meet the eye test with eight players listed at 6-foot-3 are taller.
The Gators hope a lengthy 2-3 zone defense, which often uses long forwards at the top that Hancock says he copied from Syracuse, will slow a hot-shooting Riverside squad.
“I put my bigs up at the front … and I want my guards at the back because sometimes my guards outrebound the bigs, and it actually worked out,” Hancock said about Thursday’s win. “(St. James) shot contested shots, and it kept them from getting into the paint because our guards already have an instinct to break down.
“Even if they get past the bigs, my guards are already there because they know how to get to their spots.”
The Gators are making their second-ever championship appearance, winning the 2003 state title with a 41-0 squad. Lakeview’s other state tournament trip came in 2004, and the school made one previous trip as Campti High.
For Riverside, the defending Class 2A state champions, the program is making its fifth state tournament and title game appearance. The Rebels won championships three of their four previous trips, including in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Before North Caddo faced Riverside, coach Ron Meikle said Lakeview might be the more dynamic team.
“Just from watching the film of Riverside and not seeing them in person, Lakeview poses more problems because they can get to the cup,” Meikle said. “Riverside shoots it really well, but with Lakeview, they can get to the cup. You have to defend short, medium, the post and the 3-point line against Lakeview.”