What is more difficult than attempting to beat a team three times in a season? How about trying to beat a team three times in less than three weeks?
That was the task facing Southern entering yesterday's state Class 3A, Region III quarterfinal game Class 3A, Region III
against Carver, having beaten the Bears by 14 Feb. 9 and by 23 Feb. 17.
Playing for the first time since Feb. 19, No. 4 Southern started slowly but picked up the pace in the second half and rallied past the visiting Bears, 72-49.
Junior shooting guard Kevin Simpson led all scorers with 25 points for Southern (17-5) and had nine rebounds and five steals. Dante Williams added 16 points and had eight rebounds, five blocks and four steals. David Berkeley led Carver (10-10) with 19 points and seven rebounds, and John Chester had 16.
The Bulldogs, seeded third, advanced to tomorrow's 5 p.m. regional semifinal game at second seed and No. 6 Southwestern. It will be the third meeting of the season between the schools. The Sabers won the first meeting, 82-72, in December, before Southern bounced back in January, 72-53.
The Bulldogs may be without junior point guard Damon Cason, who suffered a broken nose against Carver Feb. 17. Cason, who didn't play yesterday, said that a nose mask had not arrived but hopes to have it before tomorrow's game.
But Southern does have Williams, a 6-foot-5 swingman who recently returned to the team after being suspended for disciplinary reasons for most of the season. Coming off the bench, he sparked the Bulldogs late in the first half yesterday, scoring eight points in the final 3:40 to give them a 23-22 halftime lead.
"I had to come in there and step it up," said Williams, a junior. "We were down and I had to do what I had to do out there to get us going."
After struggling in the opening half, Simpson also came to life, highlighting a 14-0 run with eight points, turning a 24-23 deficit into a 37-24 lead with 3:44 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bears, seeded sixth, came back to close the gap to 44-35 at the end of the third. The Bulldogs opened the final period with a 10-2 run as Simpson had a jumper and hit a pair of three-pointers.
Without much fanfare, it was the first state basketball playoff game involving city schools. Eight schools qualified for the boys tournament and seven for the girls tournament.
Carver and Southern didn't leave any lasting memories in the opening period. The score after the first was 5-5 and there were 21 turnovers.
The pace and the play picked up in the second quarter, and Carver gained a 22-17 lead with 1:49 remaining after a 7-2 run. Then Williams began to take over for the Bulldogs, hitting a pair of free throws and consecutive dunks to give Southern the lead back at the intermission, 23-22.
"We definitely came out sluggish today," said Simpson, 6-5. "We came out playing and joking around in warm-ups, and I told them in the huddle that we were acting like we didn't want this and it showed. The coaches laid us out at halftime and told us if we don't want it, just leave, and that really got us going."
Faced with playing another opponent for a third time tomorrow, Southern coach Meredith Smith wasn't too excited.
"I don't like that," he said. "I thought that a part of being in the states was that we would have different experiences, but this is the same old thing all over again.
"We're in the playoffs and got to play three teams that we have been playing all season. . . . I thought they should have put us in different regions, so at least if we would have to meet it would be in the finals."