North Allegheny was 11-0 heading into its section showdown at home against fellow-undefeated New Castle on Jan. 11.
But after a dream start to the season, a nightmare quickly ensued.
New Castle handed North Allegheny its worst loss in more than a decade, 88-43.
"I just think it kind of woke us up," North Allegheny senior point guard R.J. Colabrese said. "It woke us up and showed us that we needed to continue to get better."
Since that eye-opening defeat, North Allegheny has refocused. The Tigers (16-1, 10-1) have won five games in a row -- all coming in Class AAAA Section 3 play -- and sit in second place in the section behind New Castle (18-0, 11-0).
"We really didn't change much. We are who we are," Colabrese said. "When we have everyone playing with a great, focused effort on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, that's when we're playing our best. The past couple of games I really think we have been doing that."
The win streak has included road triumphs against North Hills, 73-59, Shaler Area, 69-48, and Seneca Valley, 67-51, as well as a home victory against Pine-Richland, 70-64.
North Allegheny remains consistent offensively, but it's on defense where the Tigers have made considerable strides. In a three-game stretch that concluded with the New Castle loss, the Tigers conceded point totals of 69, 65 and 88. The Tigers have not surrendered as much since, giving up an average of about 56 per game.
Last Saturday's win at Seneca Valley was huge. A Seneca Valley victory would have pulled the Raiders (14-5, 7-4) into a second-place tie with North Allegheny. Instead, North Allegheny defeated Seneca Valley for the second time this season and eighth in a row overall.
"We needed to get another big win to get the morale up," Colabrese said. "[Seneca] had been playing really well, so that was big for us to go there and win."
Four players scored in double figures for North Allegheny -- junior David Haus (16), junior Joe Mancini (12), Colabrese (11) and senior Luke Soyster (10).
That scoring balance has been there for North Allegheny throughout the season, as the Tigers don't have a player averaging more than 15 points per game. Senior Sean Hennigan, senior Adam Haus (David's brother), senior James Meeker and junior Elijah Zeise often score in double figures, too.
Zeise made his first start of the season last week against Shaler. He had been strictly coming off the bench as he worked himself back from a groin injury incurred during football season.
North Allegheny must now focus on the remaining three games of its section schedule, which includes a pair of major road tests over a four-day period -- at Hampton (Friday) and at New Castle (Tuesday).
The Tigers defeated Hampton, 74-65, in the first meeting.
Vincentian's one-two punch
No WPIAL school is having as much success on the basketball court as Vincentian.
Heading into Monday, the Royals' boys and girls teams boasted a combined record of 33-1.
The Vincentian boys (16-1, 6-0) are ranked No. 2 in Class A and hold down first place in Section 2.
The Vincentian girls (16-0, 8-0) are ranked No. 1 in Class A and are in first place in Section 2, and are one of only three undefeated girls teams in the WPIAL.
Both teams are among the highest-scoring in the WPIAL and both are winning by hefty margins. In each of their victories, the Vincentian boys have won by at least 12 points. Their lone loss was to Ebensburg Bishop Carroll of District 6, 83-81, on Jan. 12. The Vincentian girls have won all but three of their games by double digits.
Each team also has an outstanding sophomore who is among the top 10 scorers in the WPIAL. For the boys, Ryan Wolf is averaging 22 points per game. For the girls, Brenna Wise is scoring 24.1 per game.
Here are a few boys games to keep an eye on this week:
• Indiana at Mars Area, 7:30 p.m. Friday -- Mars has never won an outright section championship in the program's history (it shared one with Springdale in 1987), but the Planets (14-3, 8-0) would take a huge step toward getting their first by beating Class AAA Section 1 foe Indiana (14-4, 8-1) for the second time this season. Mars has a 15-game home win streak dating back to last season.
• North Allegheny at New Castle, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday -- Speaking of home-court dominance, New Castle has won 23 in a row on its home court. That combined with its convincing win at North Allegheny early this month makes New Castle the heavy favorite. But it wouldn't be wise to count out North Allegheny, which would love nothing more than to get some payback.hsbasketball