Video: Southern Section Open Division semifinals previewFour nationally-ranked teams remain in the 16-team bracket.Mater Dei (Santa Ana)
is the gold standard for high school basketball in the state of California.
Under 1,000-game winner Gary McKnight, the Monarchs have won 11 state and 22 section titles since 1983. Mater Dei was crowned national champion by MaxPreps in 2014 following a 35-0 campaign with Stanley Johnson on the roster.
But three years after arguably its greatest season ever, Mater Dei is playing the unfamiliar role of underdog heading into Friday's Southern Section Open Division Championships semifinals at the Galen Center on the campus of USC.
Ranked No. 5 nationally by MaxPreps, the Monarchs (30-1) meet No. 3 Chino Hills
(29-1) at 8:30 p.m. in the second half of a monster doubleheader.See the bracket: Southern Section Open Division Championships
No. 2 Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth)
meets No. 9 Bishop Montgomery (Torrance)
in the opener at 7 p.m.
Almost a year ago to the day in the exact same spot, Chino Hills humiliated Mater Dei 102-54 – the most lopsided loss in McKnight's illustrious career. LiAngelo Ball
led the way for the Huskies with 34 points.
In December at the Tarkanian Classic in Las Vegas, Mater Dei got a shot at revenge in the championship game of the 16-team tournament. Once again, LiAngelo got loose with 25 points and Chino Hills prevailed 84-73.
Will the third time be a charm for Mater Dei?
In addition to the maturation of mainstays Justice Sueing
(17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds per game), Spencer Freedman
(15.0 points, 5.8 assists) and Michael Wang
(10.4 points, 6.2 rebounds), the Monarchs have something different to throw at Chino Hills this time around.
That would be junior 7-footer Bol Bol
, who is averaging 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.1 blocked shots per game in 10 outings since being declared eligible in early January.
To be fair to McKnight and Mater Dei, beating Chino Hills isn't totally foreign territory. The Monarchs sent Chino Hills packing in the section playoffs in 2014 and 2015.
Mater Dei will have to do it again to reclaim its place on the throne in Southern California.