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Fairfield Prep-Hillhouse Round IV is for the Class LL crown

Updated 12:33 am, Friday, March 15, 2013

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  • Boys basketball action between Fairfield Prep and Hillhouse at Alumni Hall at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday January 15, 2013. Photo: Christian Abraham / Connecticut Post

    Boys basketball action between Fairfield Prep and Hillhouse at Alumni Hall at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. on Tuesday January 15, 2013.

    Photo: Christian Abraham

 

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Fairfield Prep vs. Hillhouse: 2012-13

Jan. 15, at Alumni Hall: Hillhouse 59, Prep 44
Feb. 5, at
Hillhouse: Prep 57, Hillhouse 52
Feb. 26 (SCC championship), at Hamden:
Hillhouse 53, Prep 47 (OT)
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SOUTHINGTON -- All throughout the winter, anyone paying attention to high school boys basketball probably speculated, at least once, about the possibility of Fairfield Prep and Hillhouse playing each other four times this season.

That idle speculation gradually snowballed into reality when it became clear the Jesuits and the Academics were the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in Connecticut by the time they met on Feb. 26 at the TD Bank Center in Hamden for a third time in the SCC championship, won by Hillhouse 53-47 in overtime.

And as many anticipated, the schools will go toe-to-toe for Round IV Saturday night at 8:15 at the Mohegan Sun Arena -- this time to decide the Class LL title. Each team has won on the opponents' home court and Hillhouse holds a 2-1 advantage.

It turns out the players and coaches involved started thinking about the possibility of four games against each other as far back as the Christian Heritage Fall League Tournament.

"Over the summer when you hear the rumors the 7-footer (Paschal Chukwu) is leaving Trinity Catholic and he's going to Fairfield Prep -- I knew," Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said Thursday afternoon at the CIAC's boys basketball luncheon at the Aqua Turf Club. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. They already were a good program and he goes and takes them to the top. Now it's our job to keep them from getting over the top."

Both teams will be trying to break through for a Class LL title after playing the role of runner-up to St. Joseph the previous two championship games at Mohegan. Second-seeded Hillhouse, which lost in last year's LL final, is seeking its first title since 2007 and 22nd overall. No. 1-seeded Fairfield Prep, which made the LL final two years ago under then first-year coach Leo Redgate, won its most recent of two state championships in 1997.

Jesuits senior forward Tim Butala is one of the few remaining holdovers from the 2011 team and part of a senior class that's gone 67-13 the past three seasons but doesn't yet have a banner to show for it. Last year Hillhouse ended Prep's season in the LL semifinals 60-47.

"A couple years ago it was so new, everybody was happy we were there," he said. "Losing the last two years, that hurts a lot. It's definitely a reminder, you have to take advantage of your opportunities."

Opportunities figure to be few and far between for either school in Round IV.

In the first three games, neither side has cracked the 60-point plateau with Hillhouse coming the closest in its 59-44 win at Alumni Hall on Jan. 15. The SCC final was an extremely defensive-first affair with the Jesuits shooting 31 percent from the floor and the Academics winning 53-47 despite shooting 17-for-63 (27 percent) from the field. Chukwu no doubt played a role in that, posting 20 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.

Hillhouse, which can go 10 deep, does have a big 6-foot-7 senior Chaise Daniels to body-up with Chukwu, while Academics' senior guards Bobby Bynum Jr. and Andre Anderson could muscle Prep's underclassman backcourt of Ryan Murphy and Tommy Nolan. Hillhouse's pressure could in turn lead to easy baskets in transition for Shane Christie and Raiquan Clark.

In its quarterfinal romp over FCIAC champion Central, Hillhouse held the Hilltoppers to a mere two points in the third quarter -- and those came in the final 30 seconds -- confirming its status as the best defensive team in the state.

"It's going to be a defensive battle," Butala said. "Whoever stays under control the most will be fine."

Redgate agrees. In the SCC final, the Jesuits turned it over 26 times. A repeat performance would make winning Saturday a very difficult proposition.

"A lot of it at this time of year comes down to luck," he said. "One shot trickles out. One bad call. One bad possession is the difference between winning and losing. One thing I can assure you, both teams will give the greatest effort and it'll be a joy to watch."

Considering both teams know each other so well at this point, it might simply come down to whichever team executes better for 32 minutes.

Whichever way it shakes out late Saturday night, both teams have relished the chance to have this many chances to play this many times against an opponent its equal.

"Do they have a weakness? No," Butala said. "But I think we're solid top to bottom, so it should be an awesome matchup."

mcardillo@ctpost.com; @CTPostCardillo