SANTA ANA, Calif. --
The desired Long Beach Poly (Calif.)
vs. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Southern Section final never materialized, leaving Southern California basketball fans bummed that the two storied programs weren't going to meet in what was then the biggest game of the year.
Then the two met Tuesday in the CIF Southern California Regional Open Division Championships, maybe making fans thank the heavens for a second chance.
Turns out it wasn't all it was hyped up to be.
The Monarchs sprinted to a 6-0 lead in the Open Division semifinals and never had to be too concerned with losing the lead, as they romped over the Jackrabbits 83-63 at the Merulo Athletic Center. The closest it ever got after that 6-0 lead was a six-point margin in the third quarter, and the Monarchs kept the pressure on with great offensive prowess to eliminate Poly.
"Usually we come out and play in a burst so our main focus is constant
pressure. If we are up 20 we need to push it to 27," said Elijah Brown
, who led all scorers with 33 points. "We know. It all starts in practice and we're all hungry. There's no need to tell us
that we need to play hard."
When Poly lost to Etiwanda (Calif.)
in the CIFSS Division I-AA final, it set up a Mater Dei vs. Etiwanda final won by Etiwanda, 54-51.
Now fans get a rematch of that in the SoCal Oepn Division title game. Tip-off is Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario. But more on that later.
The story of the night was Brown's hot hand and that of teammate
. Both kept the pressure on and never allowed Poly to get in the game.
Brown's 33 points included a 9-for-18 success rate, 3-for-7 shooting from 3-point range and a 12-for-15 rate at the free throw line, not to mention 11 rebounds and four assists. Johnson, a junior, also scored 21 points on 7-for-11 shooting, including three perfect tries from beyond the 3-point arc.
As a team, the Monarchs shot 60 percent in the first half and even though the percentage went down in the second half, they made up for it with 20 free throw conversions.
On the flip side, Poly jumped out to a disastrous start, missing its first five shots and turning the ball over once. It didn't get much better from there, as the Jackrabbits went into the halftime break trailing 39-28 saddled with a 1-for-11 mark from 3-point range and a 37.5 percent field goal percentage.
"Early we settled for too many jump shots and that wasn't part of our
game plan and I think it was magnified by the fact that they hit shots early," said Poly coach Sharrief Metoyer.
"When we don't make shots and they hit shots you try and get
it all back in one possession. We felt the urgency and we continued to take (jump shots).
"It wasn't our night. We didn't shoot well and they did. I told our kids you have to tip your cap to them. They were better than us."
They were, in just about every facet of the game.
One key to Mater Dei's victory was getting Poly's stars in foul trouble. By driving the ball inside and also taking charges on the defensive end, the Monarchs got USC commit Roschon Prince
and Oregon commit Jordan Bell
to foul out in the fourth quarter. Prince had 25 points and nine rebounds, while Bell had 12 points and six rebounds. With those two gone, there was little to no shot at a Jackrabbits comeback.
"In my 31 years it's the best rivalry in Southern California," Monarchs coach Gary McKnight said. "We
talked to them at halftime about how they had to keep going, and we
had to take charges on Prince, and that made a big diference. They kept
the momentum going, whereas I have seen our team fade and make it a
The only time Poly got close to making it a game was in the third quarter. Down 50-38, Prince converted a three-point play and then converted a putback. A Mater Dei bucket was met with a 3-pointer from Brandon Staton
and it was 52-46, a far cry from when it was 37-21.
But just as fast as Poly got close to getting back in it,
immediately quelled the rally with a 3 of his own. He finished with 10 points for the Monarchs (32-2 and ranked No. 10 in the Xcellent 25).
Poly, ranked No. 13 in the Xcellent 25, ended up making a statement. Just not a conventional one. And it could be a contentious issue in the coming months. Click here to read more about the Jackrabbits' intentional use of an ineligible player
in the final minute. See the MaxPreps California boys basketball playoff brackets
So now the attention turns to Etiwanda, the team with the rock-solid defense that knocked off Poly and Mater Dei in consecutive contests. Johnson said he's excited about getting another shot at the Eagles and maybe getting to Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento to play for a state title. He learned a lot in that loss.
"I need to drive and kick. I got a lot of charges. We need to push the pace,
getting easy buckets on the fast break and we need to make shots. Last time
only four players scored. Only three had a field goal," the junior said. "Now we know what
to do so it will be tougher for them. We are ready for it."
McKnight said they had better be ready.
"Dave [Kleckner] can really coach and they have some good players. They humbled us,
we were embarrassed. We have to adjust to their defense and how hard they