Take the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked boys basketball teams in the state, both undefeated with Division I talent and throw them in front of a couple thousand loud spectators inside a venerable gymnasium.
Right there you've got the recipe for a potential classic mid-January encounter.
Thirty-two minutes later, the resulting product between top-ranked Hillhouse and No. 2 Fairfield Prep didn't exactly live up to the pregame ingredients.
Instead, the Academics used a game-changing 9-0 run to close the first half to propel them to a convincing 59-44 victory Tuesday night in front of a packed house at Alumni Hall, which included UConn coach Kevin Ollie.
"There's no doubt in my mind Hillhouse is the best team in the state. Having said that I don't think we're too far behind," Jesuits coach Leo Redgate said. "(Their) coach knows we didn't play very well tonight and our team knows we didn't play very well tonight."
The game started at a high level -- neither team turned it over in the first quarter -- leaving the large crowd oohing and aahhing after nearly every basket. A 3-pointer by Prep freshman Ryan Murphy tied the game at 15 with 5:08 left in the second quarter.
From there the Academics ratcheted up their halfcourt defense and held the Jesuits scoreless the rest of the half, aided by the fact Prep guard Keith Pettway was on the bench with three fouls. Hillhouse closed the second quarter on a 9-0 run, punctuated by a dunk from junior Shane Christie (game-high 22 points) and making a statement that although Jesuits might be good, they still have a long way to go to hang with the SCC -- and state's -- top dogs over four quarters.
"If we're not playing defense, we're not playing basketball," Hillhouse coach Renard Sutton said. "I'm deep enough and I have kids willing to accept defensive roles and the rebounding roles and basically that's what it's going to come down to, not scoring points."
Hillhouse didn't press, instead relying on its strong man-to-man defense to take Prep out of its usual offensive sets and rhythm.
"I thought it was interesting that they didn't press us," Redgate said. "That's actually very good coaching. Most people watching probably thought they would press us and we would have torn it apart. We're good at breaking pressure. We don't dribble through pressure, we pass through pressure and we usually have 2-on-1s at the other end."
The second half began in similar fashion, Prep turned it over on its first possession and Andre Anderson sunk a deep 3-pointer on the other end, extending the lead to 12 points. A lay-up by Christie midway through the third made it 34-18, giving the Academics their biggest lead.
Prep got a lift on a thunderous dunk by 7-footer Paschal Chukwu on the next possession and would get as close as seven in the fourth quarter on a 3-pointer by Tim Butala, but the Jesuits never made a sustained run to make the Academics sweat it out. In fact, Hillhouse slowed the game down in a modified four-corners offense early in the third, still getting baskets whenever they needed to from Christie, Raiquan Clark or undersized center Chaise Daniels.
"Third quarter we realized they were getting worn down and tired so we kept attacking," Christie said.
Despite 10 rebounds and nine blocks, Chukwu wasn't a huge factor, finishing with only four points. Murphy led Prep with 14 points, Butala added 10.
"We knew this was a better team than we've played all season and that we had to play better than we have all season and we just didn't do that," Butala said.
The teams will meet again on Feb. 1 in New Haven, but there was a sense that even with the lopsided result Tuesday night, this was only the beginning of what could be a series of encounters in both the SCC and Class LL playoffs.
"We have to play them one more time for a fact and I think at least another time, whether it's in the SCCs or the states because those guys are for real," Sutton said.
Added Butala: "We'll see them again, at least once. We can learn a lot from this game, and we'll just get better."
Derrell Lee 0 0-0 0 Andre Anderson 3 0-0 7 Bobby Bynum 2 1-3 5 Dion Boyd 0 0-0 0 Marcus Brown 0 0-0 0 Trevor Thigpen 0 0-0 0 Chaise Daniels 4 0-0 8 Corey Staggers 0 0-0 0 Quian Sturges 1 0-0 2 Raiquan Clark 3 4-7 10 Jordan Johnson 0 0-0 0 Shane Christie 9 5-7 24 Juan Carlos Sepulveda 0 0-0 0 Christopher Leak 1 1-2 3 Totals: 23 11-19 59
FAIRFIELD PREP (9-1)
Tim Butala 2 4-7 10 Paschal Chukwu 1 2-3 4 Tommy Nolan 3 2-4 8 David Zielinski 0 1-2 1 Keith Pettway 2 2-4 6 Ray Featherson 0 0-0 0 Rich Sekerak 0 0-0 0 Ryan Murphy 5 2-2 14 Quinn Lincoln 0 0-0 0 Chris Kelly 0 1-3 1 Ryan Foley 0 0-0 0 Anthony Palazzolo 0 0-0 0 Totals: 13 14-25 44
HILLHOUSE 13 11 14 21--59
FAIRFIELD PREP 10 5 13 16--44
3-pointers: H--Anderson, Christie; FP--Butala 2, Murphy 2
Technical foul: FP--Nolan; H--Daniels