BATON ROUGE – A battle between two of the state’s powerhouses lived up to the hype.
Unfortunately for the Walker High Wildcats, it wasn’t the outcome they had hoped for.
In a back-and-forth tussle that featured big plays by both teams, the Catholic High Bears made just enough of them to outlast Walker for a thrilling 82-79 victory Friday night.
Despite a career night from LSU signee Jalen Cook, who finished with 53 points, the Wildcats (15-4) couldn’t stop the Bears (20-2) from picking up their 20th win of the season, thanks in part to 33 points by CHS guard Kentrell Garnett.
As a team, Walker went 30-for-62 from the field, including 7-for-15 from deep. But apart from Cook’s monster night, only one other Wildcat reached double figures was Warren Young Jr. with 10.
The rest of the team combined for 16.
Catholic High meanwhile, connected on 45 percent of their field goal attempts (25-for-55) but was aided by a 25-for-30 clip from the free throw line, which included 12 made free throws in the decisive fourth quarter.
Walker coach Anthony Schiro praised his players for the “guts and heart” they displayed in a hostile environment, saying if they had capitalized on a few opportunities, it could’ve been a different outcome.
“If we finish a little better around the rim and take advantage of some opportunities we had around the basket, we’ll be fine,” said Schiro, whose team played without injured starters Brian Thomas and Donald Butler Jr. “Just clean that up a little bit.
“Defensively, we need to do a better job of not giving up the middle of the lane and let them get to the rim,” Schiro said. “We lost sight of our man a couple of times. All that being said, our guys played tough and played hard, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
The Bears controlled the entire first half, scoring first and never looking back in taking a 44-38 lead into halftime. They extended their lead to 10 points midway through the third quarter on Garnett’s layup.
That’s when Schiro decided to change things up.
Walker went to a zone defense in the third quarter, which helped them eat away at Catholic High’s lead. The ploy worked with the Bears making just 10 of their 26 field goal attempts across the third and fourth quarters, giving the Wildcats a chance to get back in the game.
“It kind of stymied their flow and rhythm a little bit,” Schiro said. “We got a couple of deflections and turned it into points. It helped us get in transition and get us back in the game.”
It certainly did.
After trailing by 10, Walker pulled within six points by the end of the third quarter, thanks to Cook’s deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer. The Wildcats then went on a 12-4 run to start the fourth quarter, with Cook’s coast-to-coast layup with 4:30 remaining giving his team its first lead of the game, 70-68.
But the Bears answered back, this time for good.
Catholic scored the next 10 points, with eight of those coming from the free throw line. Cook hit a 3-pointer to make it 78-73, but four more made free throws from Garnett and Caleb Warner iced it for the Bears, who picked up their 10th win in 11 games.
Despite the loss, Schiro said he liked what he saw from his team, which returns to action against East Ascension on Tuesday.
“I was proud of the way we played, the way we fought, the way we battled,” Schiro said. “We took the lead and had some opportunities to extend it, but we didn’t get it done. But I thought my young guys showed a lot of guts and heart. I thought we grew up a lot. We’re going to be fine.”