The Cooldown: Week 23

We’ve got just a few weeks of hoops action left in the 2023-24 season. There are three area teams headed to the girls state tournament – Summer Creek in 6A, Randle in 5A and Columbus in 3A – while the boys are headed to round three. A week from now, all that will be left in the boys state tournament.

Although we’re getting less games by the week, last week still offered tons of great games. Let’s recap the best games, hand out players-of-the-week and preview the girls state tournament.

Clear Springs pulls off upset of Atascocita

I think the term “upset” is relative in high school basketball. There’s a lot of variance and truly anything can happen. Clear Springs had a great team this year, but did not finish among the top 25 teams in the state. Atascocita finished No. 8 and spent much of the season in the top six. Yet it was the Chargers who came out on top against Atascocita, winning 61-58.

The Eagles are also an area hoops powerhouse, and typically a mainstay in the regional tournament. That should come with a high level of appreciation, because it’s hard for any team to be a mainstay in the regional tournament; it’s not easy to win at least three playoff games most years. The last time Atascocita made it past the area was 2022, when the Eagles lost to a Duncanville squad that was probably not entirely fair. The Panthers were suspended from the state playoffs last season for recruiting violations, including during the 2022 season, and had that 2022 title stripped from them.

But, for the second year in a row, Atascocita is out in the area round. That speaks to how hard it is to win playoff games in the Houston area. It also speaks to how good, and perhaps underrated, Clear Springs has been this season, playing in a tough district.

Alec Belter scored 18 points in the win, including five 3-pointers. None of those points were bigger than the two free throws he knocked down to seal the game. David Emelife had a monster night with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Those two combined for 45 of Clear Springs’ 61 points.

Next up, Clear Springs gets C.E. King. The winner of that would get the winner of Bellaire and Katy Jordan for the right to play in the regional finals, where No. 9 Beaumont United is the favorite to win the region. United won consecutive 5A state championships in 2021 and 2022 before losing in the 6A state championship game last season.

Clements keeps its undefeated season alive

Clements hasn’t lost a game in more than a year now – Clements lost to Tompkins on Feb. 20 of last year to close the season. The Rangers are winning games in a way most teams their caliber aren’t: with defense.

The Rangers haven’t been in many shootouts this year. They haven’t posted eye-popping offensive numbers the way many are accustomed to seeing in today’s game. But Clements is posting elite defensive numbers, a great quality to have but not typically indicative of a great team — at least without a similarly impressive offense.

Of course, high school basketball isn’t always the prettiest game. Many times, officials let teams play a little bit more than in the pros and typically at a similar level to college ball. There’s more physicality involved, which helps defenses and limits offenses. Still, you don’t see many teams winning playoff games — in a blowout, at that — by scoring under 50 points.

Yet, here’s Clements, one of the top defenses in the entire state regardless of classification, with its rim-running big men protecting the paint at an elite level, churning out playoff wins and an undefeated season regardless of offensive points scored. That continued in the area round with a 49-26 win against Stratford.

The Rangers didn’t allow Stratford to score more than eight points in any quarter. The Spartans’ 26 points in 32 minutes means the Clements defense held them to an astounding 0.81 points per minute. That’s elite defense.

Divine Ugochukwu matched Stratford in scoring by himself, posting 26 points to go with four assists, four rebounds and four steals. A line of 26-4-4-4 is pretty dominant. Ugochukwu totaled that output on an efficient 10-16 shooting. Joshua Clark was also in double figures with 13 points to go with six rebounds and three blocks.

Next up is one of the toughest tests this Clements team has faced all season. At 35-2, Seven Lakes gets its wins by scoring a lot of points. Seven Lakes hasn’t lost a game in February, posting point totals of 90-89-69-72-58 in five wins. However, Seven Lakes hasn’t faced a defense like the one Clements attacks with every night. That might be the most intriguing third-round game in the Houston area and I’m excited to see the outcome.

Randle girls advance to the state tournament for the first time

Richmond’s Randle High School opened in fall 2021 with freshmen and sophomore classes only. In just three short years of existence and only two years of girls varsity basketball, the Randle Lions are headed to the state tournament.

Randle is 30-8 this season, but hasn’t lost a game since Dec. 15 against Willowridge. First, the Lions took down Hendrickson 59-55 in the regional semifinals, overcoming a 12-point deficit to advance. Alaysia Cook poured in 25 points and added five rebounds and four steals; forcing turnovers was a key to the win for Randle. Kurynn McNeill added 14 points and four assists, and her five steals led the team.

Cook led the team in scoring once again against Barbers Hill, but this was a different kind of game. Randle advanced to the state tournament by beating the Eagles in a defensive slugfest, 38-34. Cook had 13 points, while Jalissa King chipped in nine and Ifemena Nwora added eight.

At the state tournament, Randle, making its first appearance, will face a Frisco Liberty squad that has made six appearances at the state tournament, all coming since 2016.

Players of the Week

I haven’t talked enough about one of the top teams in the area on this weekly blog. College Park has rolled to a 33-4 record and the Cavs blew out a good Langham Creek team in round two, 64-37. My boys player-of-the-week, Martez James, tallied a double-double with 20 points and added 12 rebounds in that one.

College Park faces Cy Ranch (25-11) in round three and should be favored. The Cavs routinely get big games from James, Aiden Buckmon and Ian Inman, which I wrote about in my first basketball blog of the year. James’ double-double earns him player-of-the-week!

There is no doubt about my girls player-of-the-week. Summer Creek faced No. 11 Hightower with a trip to the state tournament on the line, and the Bulldogs made it look like it was a bi-district game. Summer Creek nearly doubled up Hightower in a 65-35 win. Zachara Perkins led the Bulldogs with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. Perkins is my player-of-the-week!

Girls State Tournament Preview

First, let’s take a look at which girls teams made the state tournament from the Houston area, who they play and when. All state tournament games, girls and boys, will be played at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

Columbus (26-10) will face Huntington (35-6) at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday

Randle (30-8) will face Frisco Liberty (32-7) at 7 p.m. on Thursday

Summer Creek (35-3) will face Duncanville (36-4) at 7 p.m. on Friday.

I think Huntington and Frisco Liberty will likely be the favorites to win those games, while Summer Creek – Duncanville game is a toss-up.

Columbus is making its second state tournament appearance, its second in a row. Huntington is making its first-ever appearance. So, experience will be on Columbus’ side but Huntington has a noticeably better record. I think it will be a close game, but I haven’t seen highlights of either team and I’m not sure on the context of their records. The gap is wide enough to believe Huntington will be the favorite, but it could go either way.

While Randle and Frisco Liberty have similar records, Liberty has far more experience at the state tournament. The Redhawks have made six state tournament appearances, all coming in the last eight seasons. This one should also be a good game.

However, the main event of the girls tournament is undoubtedly Summer Creek versus Duncanville, who was ineligible for the state playoffs last season. Still, Duncanville is one of the most storied programs in the state with 27 state tournament appearances and 11 state championships.

The Lady Panthers have made seven state tournament appearances in the last 13 seasons, winning the state championship in five of those years. Duncanville last appeared in the state tournament in 2020, so Summer Creek does have more recent experience with its current group of girls. Summer Creek has appeared in the state tournament three times – 2019, 2022 and 2024. I believe this game to be a toss-up and I’m excited to see who wins.

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