AUSTIN, Texas -- La Marque will play for a state basketball championship four months after falling one win short of a football title.
The Cougars used their relentless defensive press and shooting prowess to dispose of Fort Worth Arlington Heights, 72-61, in the Class 4A state semifinals Thursday at UT's Frank Erwin Center.
La Marque (33-4) advances to play the winner between Dallas Kimball and Cedar Park at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
"They made plays on the ball and forced us to turn the ball over," said Arlington Heights guard Marquis Jackson. "We didn't make plays and they made plays."
Arlington Heights (32-4) managed to keep pace with La Marque through the first half because of the defense that vaulted it into its first state tournament since 1981, but the Cougars went on a 9-2 run early in the third quarter to build a lead.
"In that third quarter, if we could have taken care of the ball, we shoot layups on the other end, but we didn't," said Arlington Heights head coach Gary Collier.
Using the press that led Houston Yates to back-to-back state titles, La Marque pushed its lead to as many as 12 in the fourth quarter.
Jackson, who led all scorers with 22 points, sparked a 6-0 run by Arlington Heights late in the game to cut La Marque's lead to six, but foul trouble and forced turnovers kept the Yellow Jackets from evening the score.
La Marque shot 48.8 percent from the field compared to 36.8 percent for Arlington Heights, and the Cougars sunk 25 of 33 free throws.
Julien Lewis, a Texas signee, was on fire in the opening minutes of the game, leading La Marque to an early 13-2 lead while Arlington Heights struggled to adjust to the Cougar press. He scored 12 of his team-high 21 points in the opening frame.
"He's a great player, but what do you expect when you go to state?" Jackson said of Lewis.
But Arlington Heights found its legs, closing the first quarter with a 7-0 run. The Yellow Jackets even held a brief lead late in the second quarter before settling for a 27-27 tie at halftime.
"We tried to hit them deep sometimes and find little weak spots in their gaps in the middle, but they're just such a big group," Collier said. "My better ball-handlers are kind of short, and it kind of presents a tough predicament when got somebody 6-3, 6-4 in your face."
While the Yellow Jackets keyed on Lewis, La Marque's DeQuentin Greer and Quevin Cams broke the game open in the third quarter, finishing with 20 and 17, respectively.