CIF State Title Game Previews & Picks

After nailing it last year with 10 correctly predicted winners out of the five boys and five girls state championship games, here's what we think might happen this weekend at ARCO Arena. We also have been right in 35 of the last 40 state finals. We make these picks with the utmost respect to all competitors of both schools who won regional titles. Note: A one-month premium subscription right now will enable you to get all of our all-state teams and end-of-the-season honors and features.

Boys Div. I: Westchester (32-3) vs. Oakland Tech (23-5)
Saturday, 8 p.m.

After watching the Comets this season, it's obvious they're not quite as good as last year's team. But Oakland Tech has not shown that its team this year is as good as last year's, either. In last year's state final, won by Westchester, 80-75, the Bulldogs were hurt when Leon Powe had to sit on the bench for long stretches in foul trouble. That can't happen again. Powe will need to come up huge -- a 30-point game at least -- if Oakland Tech can pull off the upset. Trevor Ariza is equally important for Westchester. He isn't always the top scorer, but he does so many things to lead his team. If he were in foul trouble, his absence for the Comets might be as damaging as Powe's would be for Oakland Tech. Earlier this season, Westchester pinned a 58-43 loss on the Bulldogs at the Holiday Prep Classic in Las Vegas. Since the Comets have been strong enough to beat Fairfax three times this year, they should be strong enough to beat Oakland Tech twice. The pick: Westchester 65, Oakland Tech 62.

Girls Div. I: Lynwood (34-1) vs. Mitty of San Jose (31-2)
Saturday, 6 p.m.

Lynwood was the No. 1 team in the nation last year and has played, by far, the toughest schedule in the nation this season. So why does Mitty have a very good chance of winning? First, coach Sue Phillips will notice Lynwood's 0-for-14 shooting on three-pointers in last week's game vs. Narbonne and will do what Narbonne did to give her team the best chance of winning. That means zone. Mitty also has an inside presence in 6-4 Jenna Green that could give Lynwood trouble and shoots free throws much better than Narbonne. If Narbonne made its free throws, it might have won last week. But here's the thing about Lynwood. This team is so quick to the ball that even when it plays poorly -- like against Narbonne -- it still wins by eight. The Knights just get to so many offensive rebounds and loose balls and they have so many players who can beat you off the dribble that once they spread the floor and get you into a man-to-man defense, forget it. The key for Mitty's chances is going to be turnovers. If the Monarchs can withstand Lynwood's pressure and quickness and keep the turnovers down, they will probably win. We just have a feeling that Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood is due for a better game than she had last week and that Lynwood won't be quite as bad from the outside. The pick: Lynwood 52, Mitty 50.

Boys Div. II: Mater Dei of Santa Ana (34-2) vs. Woodcreek of Roseville (27-5)
Friday, 8 p.m.

If Woodcreek were to win, make no mistake about it. It would be perhaps the biggest upset in the history of the state finals. The Timberwolves and coach Paul Hayes are to be greatly credited for what they've done. Woodcreek's program, after all, went 0-47 in its first two years of existence and that wasn't that long ago (1996-98). The team's backcourt tandem of Jeff Flores and Juston Willis plays smart, makes shots and has been the difference in games against Sacramento and Santa Rosa Montgomery (not the refs). But Mater Dei will have superior talent at every position on the floor and even some of the players coach Gary McKnight brings in off the bench may be better than anybody Woodcreek has. It's too bad the CIF Southern Section has prevented Mater Dei from being able to move up to Div. I anymore. The Monarchs are playing the wrong "W" team this week. The pick: Mater Dei 78, Woodcreek 59.

Girls Div. II: Troy of Fullerton (30-2) vs. Vacaville (33-2)
Friday, 6 p.m.

This division has been the most unpredictable in the state this season, so anything that happens in this game won't be much of a surprise. Both teams have excellent size -- Vacaville goes 6-3 and 6-2 while Troy goes 6-3 and 6-1 -- and both teams have been balanced offensively in recent weeks. One edge for Vacaville may be that Troy uses a freshman point guard. Will she be able to stand up in the pressure of a state final? One edge for Troy may be depth, which was shown when the Warriors pulled away from Mater Dei last week even though UCLA-bound Amanda Livingston fouled out in the third quarter. Last year's win for St. Mary's of Stockton in this game broke a seven-game losing streak for the north. We'll go with the south making it eight-of-nine. The pick: Troy 58, Vacaville 54.

Boys Div. III: Harvard-Westlake (29-6) vs. Sacramento Foothill (33-2)
Saturday, 2:45 p.m.

This is the best chance for the north to get a win in any of the five boys state finals. We like Foothill because coach Drew Hibbs knows what it takes to win a state title (his team won it in 1994), because the Mustangs will be playing with a decided home-court advantage and because the backcourt of Chris Walker and Sam Kirby might conceivably cause some major headaches to their Harvard-Westlake counterparts. We like Harvard-Westlake because coach Greg Hilliard knows what it takes to win a state title against a Sacramento team at ARCO (his team defeated Grant in 1996), because the Wolverines have a dominant player in Bryce Taylor and because they've played a much tougher schedule than Foothill. You just can't get more battle-tested than Harvard-Westlake, which lost two of its games to Div. IV finalist Horizon. In one day last December, the Wolverines lost in a two-overtime game to Horizon and then beat a team (Denver East) that was a state largest-class finalist in Colorado. The only reason we're going with Foothill is we also like the senior makeup of the squad. Harvard-Westlake is still mostly juniors. The pick: Foothill 63, Harvard-Westlake 62.

Girls Div. III: Bishop Montgomery (26-7) vs. S.F. Sacred Heart Cathedral (25-9)
Saturday, 1 p.m.

These two teams played in the final just two years ago, which was the first of Bishop Montgomery's current streak of three title game wins. The Knights won, 48-38, and a similar low scoring game is the only way we see the Irish having a chance. While Sacred Heart did play a tight game the last time it played Mitty and has played a difficult schedule in the brand-new girls' West Catholic Athletic League, it just hasn't seemed like a very strong year for Div. III girls teams in the north. Bishop Montgomery also has upped the level of its play over the past month and probably won't be denied a chance to make history. The Knights are trying to become the first team to win four straight state titles in the same division. Point Loma of San Diego, Brea-Olinda and Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton all have won four straight, but none of them did it in the same division. The pick: Bishop Montgomery 55, Sacred Heart Cathedral 44.

Boys Div. IV: Horizon of San Diego (31-1) vs. Hercules (25-8)
Saturday, 11:15 a.m.

It certainly won't be as easy for Horizon as it was last year when the Panthers ran all over Valley Christian of San Jose for a 22-5 first quarter lead and an eventual 78-45 triumph. Hercules has won 20 straight games and gets great point guard play from John Winston to go with the inside game of Harry Brown. It's just that Horizon has one of the best inside tandems anywhere with Jared Dudley and Alan Wiggins. Yes, it's true the Horizon-Garces game probably was for the "real" state title, but Hercules is good enough that if the Panthers believe that at all, they could go down hard. The pick: Horizon 69, Hercules 59.

Girls Div. IV: La Jolla Country Day (27-4) vs. Stockton St. Mary's (31-3)
Saturday, 9:30 a.m.

Getting to the arena early on Saturday for this one would be a great idea. It might wind up being the most interesting and most exciting matchup of the weekend, bringing together two schools that each won state titles last year in different divisions. The only other matchup at the state finals that involved champs from the previous season was in 1994 in Div. I when 1993 Div. V champ Sacred Heart Prep moved up and took on 1993 Div. I champ Lynwood. Sacred Heart Prep won, 59-53. Due to the continued confidence and improvement of freshman sensation Jacki Gemelos as well as stronger play inside from Tiffany Ducker (who was banged up earlier in the season), St. Mary's looked like one of the nation's best teams in wins last week over Ursuline and Piedmont, let alone the state. The Rams are going up against an opponent, of course, led by one of the nation's best players, Candice Wiggins. Candice may match up man-to-man against St. Mary's standout Dominique Banks, which would be real fun to watch. Wiggins isn't doing much of the inside work this season she had to do last year, which makes LJCD a better team. Marissa Rivera and the rest of the Torreys also benefitted when Candice was recently out of action for a month with a knee injury. St. Mary's comes from a much better Div. IV bracket up north than was the field down south, so we'll give an edge to the Rams. The pick: St. Mary's 60, La Jolla Country Day 56.

Boys Div. V: Price of Los Angeles (32-2) vs. Modesto Christian (25-8)
Friday, 4 p.m.

The ironic aspect of this matchup is that Modesto Christian probably would have been favored in each of the last three years against Price when the Crusaders were playing up in higher divisions. But this time you have to go with Price, which means the Knights should make history by becoming the first team to win four straight state titles. Modesto Christian has not lessened its aspirations of being one of the state's elite programs one bit. It's just that this year's team is so young (loaded with freshmen and sophomores) and is playing an opponent that has beaten many of the top Div. I teams in Southern California this season. Our favorite Price win so far was 55-49 over Long Beach Poly. Price has less than 100 students in its school. Poly has nearly 4,500. Now there's another argument why enrollment has absolutely nothing to do with basketball success. The pick: Price 63, Modesto Christian 57.

Girls Div. V: Mission Prep of San Luis Obispo (24-5) vs. S.F. Convent of the Sacred Heart (28-3)
Friday, 2 p.m.

This is one division where the exact enrollment of a school has as much to do with who wins the state title as what happens on the court. If La Jolla Country Day (which won the Div. V title the last two years) had just a handful fewer students, it would then be just below the magical cutoff number dividing Div. IV from Div. V instead of just above. Mission Prep and S.F. Convent are excellent teams in their own right, but neither is at the same level as La Jolla Country Day so their chances of winning the Div. V title hinged as much on 10 or 15 kids checking into -- or not checking into -- LJCD. In last week's NorCal regionals, Convent of the Sacred Heart displayed quickness and tenacity. The team also gained invaluable experience going up against 6-9 Lindsay Hayward of Forest Lake Christian since this week it will be 6-5 Kat Suderman of Mission Prep. Unfortunately for the San Franciscans, the 6-5 Suderman is a much more developed player. Mission Prep also will be on a mission to win for head coach Jay Cowitz, who is battling cancer. The pick: Mission Prep 51, Convent of the Sacred Heart 45.


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