ST. PETERSBURG — For 25 straight games, Wharton avoided defeat by using its fastbreak.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats' breaks were jammed.
St. Petersburg played stifling defense, handcuffing Wharton's free-wheeling offense in a 61-44 victory in the Class 6A region semifinals.
The Green Devils (23-6) travel to play Orlando Dr. Phillips in Saturday's region final. It is the first time St. Petersburg has advanced to the third round of the playoffs since 1972, when it reached the state semifinals.
"This is probably the best defensive game we've played all season," Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said. "We felt that was something we could use to take control of the game."
Blackwell knew his team would be at a height disadvantage against the Wildcats (27-2). To combat that, Blackwell preached to his team to use its quickness on defense.
From the start, St. Petersburg defenders made their presence known. They reached and slapped the ball away from Wharton guards on their first step. They picked up loose balls and passed them upcourt. And they put a hand in the face of virtually every Wildcat who took a shot.
"I can't remember a game where we had that many turnovers in that fashion," Wharton coach Tommy Tonelli said. "That's a credit to St. Petersburg's quickness and effort on defense."
The Green Devils' biggest task was to put pressure on the Wildcats guards. And when St. Petersburg had the ball, it looked for the outside shot and retrieved missed heaves when its marksmanship was off.
At the half, the Green Devils built a 26-18 lead and increased it to 47-32 in the third quarter.
Wharton (27-2) cut it to 47-36 to start the fourth quarter but could not get any closer.
Xavier Owens led the Wildcats with 18 points. Jerry Poindexter-Brown had a team-high 18 for the Green Devils, and Allen Wilson and Gabe Moton had 15 each.
"We came out and played hard-nose defense and put pressure on their guards," Moton said. "It definitely paid off."