Lincoln Park earns 5th straight trip to WPIAL finals with whistle-heavy win over Aliquippa

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Monday, February 24, 2020 | 11:21 PM


Nobody wanted 56 fouls called, but nobody was too surprised, either.

“Aliquippa and Lincoln Park is physical. That’s the way it is,” Lincoln Park coach Mike Bariski said. “One game three years ago, we had 62 fouls. Nobody’s backing down. It’s two tough communities, Midland and Aliquippa. Everybody comes to play.”

Top-seeded Lincoln Park scored 31 points at the foul line Monday night including a dozen by junior Dakari Bradford as the Leopards defeated No. 5 Aliquippa, 75-61, in a WPIAL Class 3A semifinal at North Allegheny. The whistle-weary victory takes Lincoln Park back to the WPIAL finals for the fifth consecutive year.

The two-time defending champion Leopards (21-4) will play No. 2 North Catholic (23-2) at 9 p.m. Thursday at Petersen Events Center.

Lincoln Park joins Midland (1973-77), Duquesne (1992-96) and Aliquippa (2003-07) as boys basketball teams to reach the WPIAL finals five years in a row.

“A lot of teams don’t get there five times in 30 years,” Bariski said. “The excitement never wanes. It’s what we play for.”

The WPIAL championship will be a rematch from last season when Lincoln Park defeated North Catholic, 62-50, in the finals.

“I’m ready for it, because everyone is doubting us right now,” Lincoln Park senior Isaiah Smith said. “Everyone has North Catholic over us. Everyone’s talking, so we have something to prove.”

Lincoln Park took the lead Monday with a 14-0 run in the first quarter and then stayed ahead by making 31 of 42 free throws. Bradford had a game-high 20 points, Smith scored 17, and Johnnie Bryant added 10. Bradford was 12 for 14 from the foul line, Smith went 10 for 12 and Bryant made 4 of 7.

The teams combined for 74 free throws.

“The flow of the game would have been a lot easier if the refs let two dominant teams that play aggressive play basketball,” Aliquippa coach Dwight Hines said. “We kind of got taken out of our element and our flow because we got those dumb fouls, those cheap fouls.

“You’ve got to ref the game, but don’t be the game,” he added. “I’m not blaming the refs … but at the same time, you’ve got to let us play basketball.”

Aliquippa went 19 for 32 from the stripe but was hurt early by foul trouble including two early whistles against senior Zuriah Fisher. Dewayne Revis led the Quips (16-9) with 19 points, Fisher had 13 and Deandre Moye added 12.

This was the third matchup this season between the Beaver County rivals and Lincoln Park won all three.

Containing Fisher, a 6-foot-4 senior and Penn State linebacker recruit, was Lincoln Park’s top concern defensively. The Leopards used a hybrid defense with three defenders playing man-to-man on the perimeter with the two others parked in the lane to guard Fisher.

“We’ll probably never use it again,” Bariski said, “but we used it today.”

Aliquippa led 9-5 in the first quarter before Lincoln Park switched to the defense and scored 14 consecutive points. The Leopards converted four turnovers into points, including a layup by Bryant to lead 19-9 with less than a minute left in the quarter. The run also included a pair of 3-pointers by Andre Wilder about 40 seconds apart.

“We just got more disciplined on defense,” Smith said. “When we get focused, no one can beat us.”

Seeing Fisher leave with foul trouble was an added bonus for Lincoln Park.

“When you game plan, you have to know where (Fisher) is all the time,” Bariski said. “Not one guy can watch him in the WPIAL. I don’t care what team, 6A or 1A. He’s that much of a force.”

Aliquippa’s strategy was to slow down Smith. The 6-foot guard went just 3 for 14 shooting, but the Quips saw Bradford come off the bench and lead the offense instead. Bradford scored six points in the second quarter and 10 in the third.

Lincoln Park led 37-25 at half and 57-40 after three.

Knowing the rivalry’s recent style, Lincoln Park prepared for a physical game. The Leopards had a couple of practices this week that were “more physical than usual,” Bariski said. “We knew this was coming.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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