WASHINGTON — A half-hour before tip of the first semifinal, Bender Arena was already swarmed with students, parents, coaches and other interested onlookers. The lots around the American University campus were full, a steady weave of late arrivals ducking in and out onto the surrounding streets looking for somewhere, anywhere to park. On a brisk Sunday afternoon in February, the biggest sporting event in the nation’s capital was this showdown of Catholic high school hoops powers.
On this day, Paul VI and Gonzaga College High School — ranked No. 13 and No. 12, respectively, by MaxPreps — each found very different ways to advance out of the Washington Catholic Athletic League Tournament semis, setting up an epic showdown on the same floor Monday night at 8 p.m. The teams split their two regular season matchups, setting up a rubber match for the title game.
The WCAC is no stranger to high quality basketball, as a slew of current and former NBA players and a number of college coaches have matriculated through its institutions. And while there is always a strong contingent of talent, the four teams atop the league this year each won between 14 and 17 of their 20 league games, building tension for a pair of major quarterfinal showdowns in the conference tournament.
Plenty of local college basketball royalty was on hand for the prospect-packed matchups Sunday. Both Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon and George Washington head coach Maurice Joseph were spotted courtside taking in the action, which is no surprise considering the top recruits playing that are still uncommitted for their college futures.
Maryland has made offers for Paul VI small forward Brandon Slater and Gonzaga guard Prentiss Hubb, both of whom rank among the Top 60 recruits in the country. Virginia has already made an offer for Paul VI freshman guard Jeremy Roach, whose late scoring helped the Panthers overcome a double-digit deficit to squeeze past DeMatha, 59-55.
But there were plenty of other student-athletes already committed to play at top schools around the country, making the show worth it for anyone just looking for some great basketball.
Top Notre Dame recruit D.J. Harvey led DeMatha to its early lead, along with UConn commit Josh Carlton, who dominated inside against the smaller Panthers. But Slater, Roach, and Aaron Thompson, a Pitt commit, were too much for the Stags down the stretch.
Miami commit Chris Lykes teamed with Penn State-bound Myles Dread as Gonzaga punched St. John’s in the mouth early and kept their contest from ever being a game, running out to a 22-5 lead after one quarter en route to a 66-33 blowout.
Coach Turgeon stuck it out all the way to the end of that lopsided late game, though he had personal reasons for doing so. His son Will is a junior at Gonzaga and got on the floor for the game’s final minutes.
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