CLEARWATER — During a 25-game high school season, the basketball immune system can be quite weak. When a team is playing poorly, its miscues can spread and carry over from game to game.
The same is often true when a team is winning and seemingly doing everything right.
Those spurts of good and bad fortunes are what Gibbs has gone through this season.
Through the first five games, the Gladiators experienced the negative side of this equation, as they struggled to go 3-2. But finally the young team seems to be learning to take advantage of the things it does right.
With their 67-50 victory over Miami Florida Christian in the semifinals of the Cougar Classic, the Gladiators stretched their win streak to nine and have a chance to win their second tournament title in as many weeks when they face host Countryside in tonight’s final at 8.
“Our guys are starting to come around and learning to trust one another,” Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said.
The Gladiators (12-2) started the season as a team in transition after graduating Gary Simon, the Times’ player of the year last season. Sophomore Barry Brown and junior Shaquille Speights are the leaders this year. Gibbs also had to make adjustments with several players coming over from football in November.
On Thursday, Gibbs held a 30-29 halftime lead before pouring it on in the second half to break open a close game.
“I think Florida Christian was a little bit better than we thought they would be,” Murphy said. “That caught us off guard in the first half.
They have great guard play and we had to make others get the basketball.”
By clamping down on defense, the Gladiators were able to force turnovers and convert them into layups. Brown had 14 points and led a balanced attack that had six players score at least six points.
In the other semifinal, the Cougars beat Venice 63-54.
Much like the Gladiators, Countryside has experienced plenty of peaks and valleys. The Cougars started the season 5-0, then split their next 10 games. Part of the struggles came after Mike Love quit basketball to concentrate on getting healthy in order to secure a college scholarship in football.
Without the 6-foot-4 Love in the middle, Countryside has had trouble in the paint. But the Cougars (10-5) were able to play strong defense and rely on the scoring of Darnell Lovett to pull through.
Lovett scored a team-high 24 points, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass in the second quarter that ignited a run.
“The guys knew they had to play tonight to win,” Countryside coach Myron Huey said. “We’ve had to overcome a few things this season, but the guys are learning to play hard and we had contributions from a lot of guys tonight.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.