Heath Puts His Brand-on Clovis West

The Clovis West Golden Eagles didn't expect to win the warm-ups in their Southern California Regional Div. I semifinal match-up with national powerhouse Westchester. With a collection of scrawny, looks-like-nothing athletes, they never do. Then the ball goes up and the Golden Eagles get after it with a full court, in your face style that inevitably leads to an impressive win. Not tonight. Westchester, teeming with NCAA Div. I talent, 91, Clovis West 74.

And the game wasn't even that close. The Comets (30-2) scored their first five hoops on easy lay-ups, foreshadowing their ability to get inside all night against the undersized Golden Eagles, whose pressure defense couldn't disrupt a Westchester offense that was getting everyone involved.

"We thought they'd be aggressive," said junior forward Scott Cutley. "But we knew if we executed our press, as we'd been doing all year, that we'd get the win."

Ahead 8-4, Brandon Heath, a starter last year who's had more of a subdued role this season, came off the Comet bench and took off. The 6-foot-3 senior scored in close, hit a triple and stole the ball, finishing with a flush, all in two minutes of playing time, as the Westchester lead grew to 17-8.

The second quarter was Heath's own personal showcase. The future San Diego State Aztec hit three triples to open the second quarter, extending a 21-15 first quarter lead to a 34-21 bulge. Meanwhile, 6-foot-9 junior post player Trevor Ariza was patrolling the middle for Westchester, recording four first-half blocks and making it hard for Clovis West to find any rhythm in its offense.

By the time the half ended, the Comets had a commanding 48-33 advantage behind 20 from Heath and 10 from McDonald's All-American Hassan Adams.

The second half was a showcase of Westchester's athletic gifts – four seniors have signed Div. I rides and at least three underclassmen will follow suit in coming years. A Comet team that registered only two dunks in the opening half, put seven more on the board in the final 16 minutes as the Golden Eagles' gambling defense came up snake eyes.

The highlights: (1) an Ashanti Cook to Brandon Bowman alley-oop dunk that extended Westchester's lead to 19, 54-35, early in the third quarter; (2) a steal by Ariza, who dribbled the length of the court and jumped over two Golden Eagle defenders for a vicious one-hand jam; and (3) the capper by Adams, who took a heath pass, sailed down the lane and finished with two hands high.

Give Clovis West credit. The Golden Eagles played hard to the end and behind junior Tyrese McDaniel, who finished with a game-high 33 points, were able to make the final score respectable. But they never lead and they never really threatened to make it a game.

"They're a very good team," said Clovis West head coach Vance Walberg about Westchester. "They shoot the ball well and do so many good things. We just had to hope that everything would go our way to have a chance."

In addition to McDaniel's effort, Tyson Parker finished with 19 points and leading scorer Nick Debban added 11 for the Golden Eagles, who concluded a successful year with a 28-4,that included a CIF Central Section title.

Heath led Westchester with 28 points, while Ariza had a spectacular game with 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots. Adams chipped in with 12.

After the game, Comet head coach Ed Azzam was asked if the state title was his team's to win. "I don't know if it's ours to win or lose," he said. "We just have to play hard."

The next step for the Comets, who were favored to win state last year but were upset by Corona Centennial in a Southern California Regional quarterfinal, is a showdown with Long Beach Poly. The Jackrabbits knocked off Fairfax, 76-66. Fairfax played without its superstar, Evan Burns, who cut his hand earlier in the week that required 14 stitches.

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