First, the north is clearly stronger in girls Div IV and V and closing the gap in III and II. In girls Div I, the north has a long way to go to catch up. In the boys, dominance is the opposite. In Div IV and V, the dominance of the south is the greatest, while in Div III the talent is about equal.
Division I and II boys are harder to handicap. The caveat is that the south's larger schools seem to show up in Sacramento thinking they already have the game in the bag. We didn't hear it that much this year, but in years past the press conferences were smattered with remarks from D1 and D2 players and coaches that the real championship was the southern regional. That attitude has made for some good games and this year's larger school contests turned out to be quite entertaining.
I truly enjoyed seeing all my friends...and the banter and prognosticating that goes on...plus, my status as now being from the south intensified the level of needling and teasing that I enjoy so much. This year, I had the honor of tying my esteemed editor, Mark Tennis, as we both correctly predicted the winner in 9 of the 10 games (even though our picks were slightly different). I thought I did a pretty darn good job of handicapping this year...to the point of having my old friend Jay Blair (a Mack and Cal guy who had a few cups of coffee in the NBA in the prehistoric ages) and his son, Ian, in stitches.
Division I Boys
Prediction: Westchester 71, Oakland Tech 62
Score: Westchester 73, Oakland Tech 63
This game was a perfect example of a team coming into ARCO flat after the trip from down south. With all due respect to coach Hodari McGavock, Leon Powe and the rest of the Bulldogs, the nationally-ranked Westchester team that played the first half on Saturday was not the same team I had seen earlier in the season. Westchester was sleepwalking, but the Comets woke up just in time to put a run together to tie the game at 31-31 after two quarters. Tech (23-6) had played reasonably well, even though the Powe's style of defense once again fell upon disfavor from game officials as he was whistled for two fouls in the first quarter. Those fouls seemed to take the steam out of Powe and his teammates and turned the momentum to Westchester. Even though the game was tied at the half, it was clear which team had it going as they went to the locker room. When Westchester scored the first basket of the second half, I felt strongly that Tech would never lead again. The Comets (33-3) proceeded to score 10 of the third quarter's first 11 points and the rest is history. UCLA-bound Trevor Ariza warmed up and took control on both ends finishing with 30 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, including a high-flying swat of Powe that triggered a fast break ending with a slam by Ariza that had Comet fans dancing in the aisles.
Division I Girls
Prediction: Lynwood 48, Archbishop Mitty 41
Score: Lynwood 55, Archbishop Mitty 40
This was destined to be a low scoring affair from the outset as both teams came out playing the same kind of defense they have all year. The second quarter defense for Lynwood (33-1), however, was even better than the first quarter as the Knights literally smothered the Monarchs (32-3) with a 12-0 run to outscore Mitty 14-3 for the period. Mitty could get nothing inside as time after time the quick Knights deflected and stole passes or cleaned the boards after long outside shots. The result was a miserable shooting night for Mitty and total domination on the boards by Lynwood. The results speak for themselves. Mitty was 12 for 58 from the field and was outrebounded 61-40. Had Lynwood not shot poorly themselves from both the field and the charity stripe the margin would have been even bigger for last year's top rated team in the nation and this years No. 1 team in the state. Sade Wiley-Gatewood led Lynwood with 14 points but as usual it was the depth of Lynwood that wore down its opponent. Khalilah Daniels had an exceptional game for Mitty with 15 points and 18 rebounds.
Division II Boys
Prediction: Mater Dei 72, Woodcreek 51
Score: Mater Dei 70, Woodcreek 49
The real question in this game was how bad would the nationally-ranked Monarchs (35-2) beat the upstart Timberwolves from Roseville. Once again, as in years past, Mater Dei came into this game acting like it was the winner before the opening tip-off. That, coupled with the fact it seemed like half the town of Roseville was in the stands at ARCO, gave Woodcreek the adrenalin rush in the second quarter it needed to stay close. The Timberwolves seemed in awe of the Monarchs early. D.J. Strawberry (11 points and 12 rebounds), Harrison Schaen (8 points and 12 rebounds) and Wesley Washington (team high 12 points) were in control but unable to really extend the lead. The second half was a different story as Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight probably had some choice words for his charges in the lockerroom during intermission. The end result was not pretty, but a win nonetheless as the Monarchs took control of the glass by outrebounding Woodcreek 45-23 for the game as McKnight earned his fifth state title.
Division II Girls
Prediction: Troy 58, Vacaville 53
Score: Troy 53, Vacaville 40
The women of Troy (31-2) found someone who could put the ball in the basket down the stretch and that turned out to be 6-foot junior Meghan McGuire. After three close quarters and the Warriors leading the Bulldogs (32-3), 37-35, it was McGuire who couldn't miss in the fourth quarter. In the meantime, Vacaville was folding under increased defensive pressure from Troy and was only able to hit two of 10 shots and a free throw for five points in the fourth stanza. McGuire had team and game highs of 27 points and 14 rebounds and stamped herself as one of the top returnees in the state for next year.
Division III Boys
Prediction: Foothill 69, Harvard-Westlake 64
Score: Foothill 66, Harvard-Westlake 62
This is a game that both Mark Tennis and I correctly predicted. In the morning before the game at the team hotel where I stayed, though, I had to take a lot of heat from a number of the fans and parents from Harvard-Westlake for the Cal-Hi Sports' prediction. Unfortunately for the Wolverine supporters, the game was played on the court. And while Harvard-Westlake made a remarkable run late in the game that was aided by a parade to the free throw line, the Mustangs (33-2) prevailed. With five minutes remaining in the game, it looked like the Wolverines were in the Arctic circle with no meat to eat as they trailed by 15 at 56-41. What happened next was something that rarely happens in state championship games. In the next minute it seemed like the clock did not move as Harvard-Westlake had a 9-0 run, mostly on free throws given them by the unnecessary pressing defense of Foothill. Then with 3:53 left in the contest...the score 56-50 and the Wolverines fouling themselves, the Mustangs almost gave up the game by going 10 of 18 from the line down the stretch. "We made poor decisions when the clock was our friend," said coach Drew Hibbs, who collected his school's second state crown. "We kept just enough composure to hold them off,"said Hibbs....just enough to give the north its only win in boys play and vault the Mustangs to near the top of ranked teams in Northern California.
Division III Girls
Prediction: Bishop Montgomery 61, Sacred Heart Cathedral 49
Score: Bishop Montgomery 49, Sacred Heart Cathedral 43
Noelle Quinn was once again the deciding factor for the Knights, going 11 for 23 from the field and scoring 27 points while pulling down 15 rebounds, both game highs. Coach Lisa Cooper needed every ounce from Quinn for the Knights to capture their fopurth title in a row as the rest of the team was only able to shoot 8 of 23. That was still better than the Fightin' Irish, who connected for only 13 of 40 from the field as a team. Not only that, but down the stretch when Sacred Heart Cathedral waas still in the game the Irish missed several key free throws and ended up on 13 for 23 from the charity stripe. The "four peat" is the first in state basketball history in the same division and has made Quinn and Cooper winners in each of the four years they have been at the school. Division IV Boys
Prediction: Horizon 67, Hercules 51
Score: Horizon 77, Hercules 62
The score looks somewhat close, but this was a game, unlike any of the other boys or girls games at the championships, that was decided in the very beginning and never in question throughout the contest. In fact, even I underestimated the scoring punch the Panthers (32-1) would have against the Titans, as Horizon showed why they deserve to be No. 3 in the state and in the top 20 in the nation, by literally toying with Hercules (24-9). Coach Zack Jones had the perfect defensive game plan to shut down Hercules...just as he has done to everyone this year other than Westchester in the finals of the Comets' own tournament. I had to flinch when the coach from Hercules said he felt that his team's play made Horizon look better than the Panthers were...or when the players said they felt that practice was their toughest game when asked if Horizon was the toughest team they've faced this year. It reminded me of Dominguez a few years back...the difference is Dominguez actually won state championships. All it appears Hercules has is trash talking, which the Titans also did prior to the game.
This game was such a mismatch that it was a good thing that Jones did not go to the whip. Had he done that, Horizon probably would have done to Hercules what Garces did to Lincoln, pasting a 50-point loss on them in the regional semifinal before falling to Horizon. In my preview, I had felt that if Garces could only score a season low 24 points in the first half against Horizon...what could Hercules do. The answer was a season low 20 points against the Panthers' swarming defense that resembles a straightjacket to opposing offenses. Hercules was just the latest victim to be admitted to the asylum, talking incoherently, after finishing a game against Horizon.
The game was a typical total team effort for the Panthers as five players were in double figures in scoring, led by seniors Jared Dudley and Ryan Read with 16 points apiece. Dudley added 14 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocked shots while senior Alan Wiggins kept opposing players out of the paint for the umpteenth game in a row, finishing with 11 points and 8 rebounds. Senior Franklin Williams was 5 for 7 from the field including 2 of 2 from beyond the arc as Horizon shot 50% from the field.
"We can beat you in a lot of different ways and today proved it," said a naturally beaming Jones. "How much better do we have to play to show everyone we are a top team."
Division IV Girls
Prediction: La Jolla Country Day 63, St. Mary's 61
St. Mary's 56, La Jolla Country Day 51
Sometimes a greater lesson can be learned from a loss than from a victory. That certainly was the case for Country Day. Candice Wiggins had an unfortunate game, learning a big lesson about state championship officiating and was watching with five fouls for the last 12:27 seconds of the game.
Wiggns committed a reach-in frustration fifth foul after having all her moves taken away while she saw her rival combatant, Univ. of Washington-bound Dominique Banks of St. Mary's, literally having a cakewalk on both ends of the court. Banks had a record 25 points in the first half before Torrey coach Terri Bamford came up with a scheme to limit her scoring.
Banks finished with 31 points with none more important than her basket after a steal with less than a minute remaining to increase the Rams (33-3) lead to six at 54-46. Still, Country Day (28-4) had chances to win both before and after that basket. The biggest problem for the Torreys was not Candice being on the bench, it was the 25 percent (6 of 24) shooting from the charity stripe, including an abysmal 1 for 6 in the closing stages of the game.
The win was the third title in four ties for the Stockton catholic school and the second for head coach Tom Gonsalves. For Country Day, the dream of a three-peat is history, but it would seem the future is very bright despite the disappointment of losing such a close game while playing so poorly. The Torreys return all but one starter and the ball handling duties look like they are in good hands with sophomores LaToya Cunningham and Mercedes Fox-Griffin. Marissa Rivera will only get better in the middle...and as for Candice, I fully expect to see her in Sacramento next year...she has a mission to get back what she feels was taken from her. "I really didn't get to show my talents this year," said a dejected Wiggins. "I remember the feeling of winning...and I'll remember this feeling all summer...I want to get back here again."
Chances are with all the returning talent, Country Day may even have a shot at challenging Lynwood as the top team in the state next year.
Division V Boys
Prediction: Survey says...the Price is right!
Score: Price 80, Modesto Christian 72
Modesto Christian brought 7-2 Liam Hughes to the hardwood, and the senior from England and his Crusader teammates played a respectable game against the three-time defending Div V champions. But coach Michael Lynch and his tremendously talented squad was not to be denied a four-peat...a feat never before accomplished before on the boys side. Price (33-2) seems to do whatever it needs to win the big games. Run...slow it down...shoot the outside shot...play tough defense in crunch time...you name it...they do it. Against Modesto Christian (25-9), the Knights did everything they needed to do for a full 32 minutes. They shot well (49.2% overall) with senior Oscar Edwards leading the way with 20 points on 8 for 12 shooting. The 6-5 senior also added 10 rebounds in becoming the first boys player to be on four state championship teams.
Division V Girls
Prediction: Convent at the buzzer on a layup by Sen. Dianne Feinstein
Score: Convent of the Sacred Heart 68, Mission Prep 59
Sen. Feinstein didn't suit up for the Cubs, but thankfully for the large group of faithful who drove up I-80 from The City to root for the tiny school from Pacific Heights, senior "Downtown" Liz Brown and freshman Jen Hun-Traverso did take the court. Convent scored more points (30) in the first half than anyone had scored against Mission Prep in the three games of the Southern Regional Championships. The 28 points the Cubs scored in the third quarter was more than seven of the last nine league opponents scored against the Royals from San Luis Obispo. Convent was just too quick for the much taller Royals...and with Brown (17 points and 7 assists) shooting the rock from outside...and with Hum-Traverso (21 points and 6 assists) and Brown slicing and dicing the Royals like a chef at Benihana...the end was frustrating for Mission Prep and their fine coach Jay Cowitz, who unfortunately become the Buffalo Bills of the state CIF basketball championships: 4 appearances, and 4 runner-up banners.
Editor's Note: Yes, Harold actually made those predictions before any of the games were played. He's in his second year as the primary San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports.