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St. Luke’s Cooks up a move to the final four with 54-38 win over Ariton

St. Luke’s Brandon Cooks works around a screen to get inside against Ariton in the 2A South Regional finals Tuesday in Montgomery. Cooks scored 23 points to lead the Wildcats to a 54-38 victory. (David Holtsford/AHSAA)


St. Luke’s coach Garreth Trawick signals to his players during the Wildcats’ 54-38 win over Ariton in the 2A South Regional finals in Montgomery Tuesday. St. Luke’s advanced to the state final four with the wire-to-wire victory. (David Holtsford/AHSAA)



MONTGOMERY — After star guard Brandon Cooks broke his collarbone in the first week of preseason practice, St. Luke’s coach Garreth Trawick still had faith his team could somehow slash through the weeds and assert itself in the playoffs if Cooks healed in time.

Cooks returned six games ago with his collarbone fully mended and it’s no coincidence the Wildcats have surged to a six-game winning streak and returned to the state tournament’s final four for the first time since 2019 and the fourth time since 1994.

Cooks dumped 23 points on Ariton and St. Luke’s never trailed in Tuesday’s 2A South Regional final, beating the Purple Cats 54-38 at Garrett Coliseum.

“We knew his value if we could just get everybody healthy,” Trawick said. “His teammates held the line. They were doing the job until he got back. He’s not quite 100 percent yet but he stepped up tonight.”

Cooks did his damage inside — making 7 of 13 shots and drawing enough fouls to make 9 of 10 free throws — as the Wildcats (15-11) advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals Monday at 4:30 p.m. against No. 5 Mars Hill Bible School at Legacy Arena in Birmingham.

St. Luke’s started the season 2-8 but has won 13 of its last 16 games, so the Wildcats were figuring out how to win without Cooks. But the figuring is a lot easier with the 6-1 junior on the court.

“It was a tough journey to get back,” Cooks said. “We didn’t get off to the best start but I knew if I could come back and add to it, we’d have a chance.”

Perhaps more than just a chance as St. Luke’s has won by 26, 11, 14 and 16 points during its six-game winning streak.

“Hopefully, he can keep it up,” Trawick said of Cooks. “I hope he’s not satisfied. It’s a whole different monster in Birmingham. But you don’t get to the final four by accident.”

The Wildcats get there often enough but have never won a Blue Map, losing in the state championship game in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

This time, Cooks has a good feeling that is about to change.

“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I think we’ve got a big chance. The job is not finished.”

Cooks finished Ariton early, scoring the game’s first six points on two jump shots and two free throws, and St. Luke’s never let the Purple Cats (21-10) off the floor, holding them to 33% shooting, including just 1 of 17 three-pointers, and outscored them 17-6 on points off turnovers.

“It was all predicated on the defensive side of the ball,” Trawick said. “They run their stuff and share the ball and make you defend.”

J.T. Busby added 12 points for the Wildcats, who shot 43% and made 16 of 19 free throws. Ian Senn led Ariton with 19 points.

“Now we’ve just got to keep working on us,” Trawick said. “We’ve got to get two more wins.”

1 Comment

  1. Cynthia Tate on February 23, 2023 at 7:55 pm

    I’m extremely Proud of my nephew, Brandon Cooks Jr. Not only is he great on the court, he’s great in his academic also. Belie father wouldn’t have it any other way…

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