Noting the difficulties the Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team had in its last two regular-season games and in the first half of its Division I district tournament opener, a Golden Bears fan jokingly gave coach Tim Casey advice.

Noting the difficulties the Upper Arlington High School boys basketball team had in its last two regular-season games and in the first half of its Division I district tournament opener, a Golden Bears fan jokingly gave coach Tim Casey advice.

"Maybe your (suit) coat needs to come off in the first half," he said, prompting Casey - who wore a suit for the Bears' first-round game against Briggs on Feb. 23 at Reynoldsburg - to laugh at the thought of exhorting his team in that fashion.

Fortunately for UA, senior guard Carter Smith had 21 points and senior forward Cam Hood scored 15 to lead the Bears to a 55-42 victory over a resurgent Briggs team and put away a forgettable ending to the regular season. Seeded seventh, UA improved to 16-5 and advanced to play 12th-seeded Mount Vernon in the second round Feb. 28.

"The first win's always the toughest," Casey said. "You have to get that first win before you can move on."

UA overcame eight first-quarter turnovers and 10 in the first half. Briggs, which finished 8-13, led 20-15 with three minutes left in the first half before the Bears went on a 6-0 run capped by Smith's over-the-shoulder layup with six seconds left.

UA never trailed in the second half.

The Bears clinched the OCC-Central Division championship Feb. 7, erasing a 10-point deficit in the second half to defeat Westland 52-51. They then beat Hilliard Davidson 59-43 on Feb. 10 before losing road games against New Albany (63-49 on Feb. 14) and Dublin Coffman (51-49 on Feb. 17) to close the regular season.

"Those were tough losses," senior guard Connor Casey said. "In the grand scheme, it didn't have an impact on our seeding and our confidence. We just had to get through it and move on, and I think we've done a pretty good job of that. We're ready to play our best basketball in the tournament."

Part of UA's problems in those losses was an inconsistent offense. Smith scored 13 points and Casey scored five against New Albany, and Smith and Casey scored 10 and two points, respectively, against Coffman.

"You have to count on that repetition (to improve)," Connor Casey said. "You know you're going to have to have a couple games where the shots aren't going in, but you have to count on the countless hours you spend in the gym and just hope that soon the shots start falling again. It happens to every shooter. You have to stay positive and keep shooting."

The second-round winner will play second-seeded Walnut Ridge or Worthington Kilbourne in a district semifinal at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 7, at Reynoldsburg. The semifinal winner will play third-seeded Olentangy Liberty, 11th-seeded Gahanna, Coffman or Dublin Scioto in a district final at 3 p.m. March 10 at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

UA defeated Kilbourne 55-53 on Dec. 9 and 52-31 on Jan. 24 and split with Coffman, winning 68-58 in the first round of league play on Jan. 13. The Bears have not played Walnut Ridge, Liberty, Gahanna or Scioto this season.

Walnut Ridge improved to 19-1 with a 91-40 win over Whetstone in the first round Feb. 24 behind 19 points from 6-foot-4 wing player Roy Alexander and 17 from 5-11 guard Adam McCall. Liberty, which is led by 6-foot-8 senior center Nick Archer and 6-3 senior guard Jake Bischoff, had a first-round bye and is 18-2. Gahanna improved to 15-6 with a 71-44 win over Lancaster in the first round Feb. 25 behind 19 points from 6-6 junior guard/forward Aaron Jackson and 11 from 6-2 senior guard Austin Rutherford.

"It's one thing to talk about it and another thing to just go out there and regroup yourself and find a way," coach Casey said. "But now that we have that win behind us and under our belt, that's a good thing. I couldn't be prouder of what we've achieved this season so far. I'm very proud of how these guys played. It's unfortunate that we had a bad week against a couple good teams that were well-prepared. It shook us a little bit, but now I think we're back. I think you'll see the kind of team we've had all season long."