When Fort Worth Arlington Heights beat Fort Worth Dunbar 74-70 on Dec. 29, it was already the Wildcats’ 10th loss of the season, and the team closed out 2015 with thoughts of “Where did we go wrong?”
But when the calendar flipped to 2016, a switch also flipped for Dunbar. Since then, the team’s only loss was in a playoff warmup game, and the Wildcats are back where fans always expect them to be — the UIL state basketball tournament.
Dunbar is the only Fort Worth team with a ticket to the state tournament at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Fellow Metroplex powers DeSoto and Lancaster are also headed to San Antonio. Dunbar could face defending Class 5A state champion Lancaster in Saturday’s final if both teams win their semifinal Thursday.
Semifinals: DeSoto (34-2) vs. Cibolo Steele (32-3), 7 p.m. Friday; Humble Atascocita (37-0) vs. Houston Math Science & Technology (34-4), 8:30 p.m. Friday
Final: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
DeSoto: It’s the fifth trip to the state tournament for the Eagles, who lost to state champ Galena Park North Shore in the 2014 semifinals. The Eagles won 5A state titles in 2003 and 2009. Ranked No. 4 in the state, DeSoto avenged one of its two losses by beating South Grand Prairie in last week’s regional.
Cibolo Steele: The Knights made the state tournament as a 12-loss team in 2013, bowing out in the semifinals. Steele was ranked No. 14 in the final TABC poll after finishing second in District 25-6A. Steele hopes to match up against DeSoto’s 6-foot-11 senior Marques Bolden with 6-7 sophomore Gerald Liddell, who has already received offers from Texas, Arizona, Baylor and others.
Humble Atascocita: The only undefeated team remaining and the No. 1 team in the state according to the final TABC rankings, the Eagles are making their first state tournament appearance after losing in the regional final the past two seasons. Atascocita doesn’t feature a player listed under 6-feet tall on its roster.
Houston Math Science & Technology: Sometimes referred to as Houston Sam Houston, the Tigers are back in the state tournament for the first time since their only appearance in 1988 (when they beat Fort Worth Dunbar for the state title). Ranked No. 2 in the final TABC rankings, Sam Houston has already faced Atascocita this season, losing to the Eagles 81-73 in the season opener.
Semifinals: Edinburg Vela (35-2) vs. Lancaster (34-2), 7 p.m. Thursday; Fort Bend Elkins (35-2) vs. Fort Worth Dunbar (23-11), 8:30 p.m. Thursday
Final: 3 p.m. Saturday
Edinburg Vela: The Sabercats are a veteran team that returned 10 players from last season’s regional tournament qualifier. A team that likes tempo, Vela has scored 100 points or more four times this season, more than 90 five times. This marks Vela’s state tournament debut.
Lancaster: The reigning state champs are back. It’s the Tigers’ sixth trip to the state tournament, the third since 2010. Lancaster has won its five playoff games this season by an average of 23.8 points. One of the Tigers’ two losses this season came to 6A No. 1 Humble Atascocita.
Fort Bend Elkins: The Knights, the No. 1 team in Class 5A in the season’s final TABC rankings, overcame a 16-point deficit to win their regional final matchup with Beaumont Ozen to advance to their first state tournament.
Dunbar: The Wildcats, or Flying Wildcats as fans call them, are making their 15th appearance in the UIL state tournament, but the first since 2007. Dunbar last won a state title in 2006 (after Dallas South Oak Cliff was stripped of the title for an ineligible player) and has three titles overall. Dunbar entered the calendar year at 6-10, but it hasn’t lost since, save for a playoff warmup game against Dallas API Academy.