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Parents charging refs and fight rumors: Will tensions rise again at SF’s biggest basketball rivalry?

St. Ignatius center John Squire (24) tries to block a shot by Sacred Heart Cathedral guard Ray-John Spears (11) during the Bruce-Mahoney basketball game at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

By all accounts, last year’s Bruce-Mahoney basketball game was a brilliant display of basketball, followed by an ugly display of sportsmanship.

St. Ignatius beat Sacred Heart Cathedral 69-65 in overtime on Jan. 21, 2022, with the Wildcats coming back from a 10-point halftime deficit to secure the multisport Bruce-Mahoney Trophy before a raucous Kezar Pavilion, but fans left with memories of shouting matches and physical altercations.

The night started on a sour note with a spat over pregame handshakes, and postgame scenes included two SHC parents racing across the court to lambast officials, and reports of physical conflicts between Fightin’ Irish fans and St. Ignatius students buzzed over the following days after the SI student section spilled onto the court to celebrate the thrilling victory.

With the game returning to USF’s War Memorial Gym for the first time since 2018, those sorts of confrontations are less likely.

Sacred Heart Cathedral fans celebrate a point during the first set of the Bruce-Mahoney Game in San Francisco on Sept. 14, 2022. | Ethan Kassel/The Standard

No, playing at a college venue doesn’t suddenly mean fans act with a greater sense of decorum. But the gym’s setup, with student sections separated from one another on the upper level, should allow for administrators to keep things calm in the event tempers flare.

Students for each school will be located on the upper level behind each basket, putting them in prime locations to distract free throw shooters but also preventing them from rushing the court following the game. Before the building was renovated, students were located on the upper level along each sideline, but the upper level on the west side was turned into the Sobrato Club, which is typically reserved for the host school’s alumni association—in this case, Sacred Heart Cathedral.

The same setup was used for October's volleyball match, which St. Ignatius won in straight sets. Rather than climb the stairs to celebrate with the student section, the Wildcats congregated on the floor in front of the student section for the traditional fight song.

St. Ignatius guard GC Toledo Rivera (2) tries to block a shot by Sacred Heart Cathedral forward Jerry Mixon Jr. (21) during the Bruce-Mahoney basketball game at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco on Jan. 21, 2022. | Courtesy Paul Ghiglieri/St. Ignatius Athletics

As for Tuesday’s game, there’ll be plenty of chances for new heroes to etch their names into Bruce-Mahoney lore. St. Ignatius starts a trio of freshmen in Caeden Hutcherson, Steele Labagh and Raymond Whitley. SHC’s Jerry Mixon Jr. and RL Miller have both starred in Bruce-Mahoney football games, but neither have been on the winning side in basketball yet. SHC’s last Bruce-Mahoney basketball win came on Jan. 3, 2020, at the Cow Palace, when the pair were freshmen.

One returning star from last year who could make a mammoth impact is SI center John Squire, who finished last year’s duel with 20 points and 11 rebounds. The Pepperdine commit posted 17 points and nine rebounds in Friday’s win at Valley Christian.

The game is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m., and will be broadcast live on the Bay Area Online Sports Network. The schools’ girls basketball teams are scheduled to convene at the same spot on Jan. 25. The best-of-five series for the trophy is currently tied 1-1; St. Ignatius has held the trophy since the 2018-19 school year (the 2019-20 competition was ruled a tie after the Covid pandemic prevented a tiebreaker baseball game).