These predictions are an annual tradition at Cal-Hi Sports and our goal is to get every one of them correct. That won't happen, but our winning percentages in recent years has been strong. We were right on the winner in 8-of-10 state finals from last year, hit on 8-of-10 in 2000 and went 9-of-10 in 1999. Since 1995, we've correctly picked the winner in 55 out of 70 state finals.
Div. I Boys:
Westchester (Los Angeles) vs. Oakland Tech
Oakland teams have never been blown out in the Div. I state final, so if Westchester has any overconfidence coming into this game at all watch out.
Both teams played at the City of Palms tourney in Florida in December and a common opponent was Lakewood High of St. Petersburg, Fla., which wound up as Florida's Class 5A state champ. Against Tech, Lakewood won by 15. Against Westchester, Lakewood lost by eight. It was a long time ago and it was in Florida, but the performances in that tourney still showed how deep the Comets are.
The Bulldogs cannot get into a straight run-and-gun game against Westchester, no matter how much they might want to. For them to win, they have to slow it up a little bit, let Armondo Surratt create in half-court sets and look for players like Kevin Smith and Quentin Thomas to step it up. The magical formula for Tech is for Leon Powe to score 25 with Surratt and at least two others in double figures.
Westchester has few weaknesses. Strengths include size inside, quickness and leadership at the point, great scoring from the wings and depth. If Tech is smart it will try to pack it in the paint and force the Comets to shoot from outside.
The main difference between the two teams, though, is depth. It is usually what carries the L.A. schools in the last two to three minutes of Div. I state finals and it's too hard going against it this time, too. Pick: Westchester 68, Oakland Tech 64.
Div. II Boys:
M.L. King (Riverside) vs. St. Francis (Mountain View)
This matchup got a lot more interesting once King upset nationally-ranked Mater Dei. While that win makes the Wolves a favorite to beat the Lancers, they do not have the state title game experience of St. Francis, which played in this game a year ago. Plus, it's not as if King is on some long win streak. In fact, the Wolves were edged, 71-70, by Redondo in the CIF Southern Section Div. II-AA final. We're still going with King. Too much Marvin Lea, a feeling that Northern California wasn't that strong this year in Div. II, and, well, it is ARCO Arena, where Kings hardly ever lose. Pick: King 74, St. Francis 67.
Div. III Boys:
Centennial (Compton) vs. Riordan (San Francisco)
We had the hardest time picking a winner in this game. We really like the fact Riordan was in the game last year and basically has a group of seniors who've vowed to return. It hasn't been easy, but now that they're in, the Crusaders just might be primed to play their best game of the season. Riordan also is as battle-tested as you can get after its league schedule against the likes of Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Francis and Serra and its long road trips for the NorCal playoffs. On the other hand, Centennial could arguably be ranked as high as second in the state. The Apaches avenged their only loss last week and they won a Modesto Christian tourney over a field that included Oakland Tech and Long Beach Poly. It's also a team that seems to have improved with the emergence of sophomore guard Arron Afflalo to go with fellow soph Gabriel Pruitt and seniors Darius Sanders and Sterling Byrd. Pick: Riordan 56, Centennial 55.
Div. IV Boys:
Horizon (San Diego) vs. Valley Christian (San Jose)
Northern California hasn't seemed that strong to us all year in Division IV and that uncertainty was evident again last week when Valley Christian emerged as the NorCal champ. The Warriors have played a tough schedule and most of their losses have come against the likes of Oak Grove and Andrew Hill, two Div. I schools who were in the same league. Still, Valley Christian's last loss was to Monte Vista Christian. Horizon's last loss was to Mater Dei. Valley Christian barely cracked the top 10 in the San Jose Mercury-News rankings all season. Horizon has been ranked No. 1 in all of San Diego County by the San Diego Union-Tribune for almost the entire season. Pick: Horizon 72, Valley Christian 60.
Div. V Boys:
Price (Los Angeles) vs. University (San Francisco)
The experience factor comes into play here as Price is going for a threepeat. University has been in the state finals twice, but the last time was in 1995. John Casnocha could have another big game for the Red Devils, but that still might not be enough against Price's depth and multiple scoring options. This division seems to be the toughest to call each year from the standpoint of not knowing whether it was a better year for Div. V in the south or in the north. The last few years anyway it's been the south. Pick: Price 60, University 57.
Girls Div. I:
Lynwood vs. Kennedy (Sacramento)
Kennedy has fans for this game thousands of miles away in Jacksonville, Fla., home of Ribault High. If the Cougars can pull off the huge upset, Lynwood won't be the Student Sports FAB 50 national rankings champ. Ribault will.
With all that's on the line, though, it doesn't look like there will be a dropoff of any kind at Lynwood. Sa'de Wiley-Gatewood, Janice Bright and company aren't the type of team, either, that loses if the shots from outside aren't falling. They rely on tremendous quickness above anything else and that's been evident in every game.
Kennedy deserves a ton of credit for getting this far, but you would definitely have to be an alum, parent or player to think the Cougars have much of a chance in this one. Their only hope, it seems, is that Lynwood isn't all that big inside so perhaps a strong game from Monique Smartt Kidd could put some extra pressure on the Knights. Then maybe with a large Sacramento crowd cheering them on, history can be made. Pick: Lynwood 62, Kennedy 48.
Div. II Girls:
Redondo (Redondo Beach) vs. St. Mary's (Stockton)
In reading over the press reports for these two teams over the last three weeks, a common theme has emerged for both: defense. In addition to priding themselves on defense, both teams match up well size-wise and in many other areas. Individually, watch out for Redondo's Ofa Tulikihihifo going at it most likely against St. Mary's Dominique Banks. If either gets 20, it's a win for their team. With a likely war-of-attrition type game, look for one of the role players or a bench player, like St. Mary's soph Stacy Amick, to be the hero. St. Mary's also has an edge playing near home and in experience as a few of the players, like Banks, have been in the state finals the previous two seasons. Pick: St. Mary's 48, Redondo 44.
Div. III Girls:
Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) vs. Miramonte (Orinda)
There's some real star power in this one with Noelle Quinn and Nykia Peace for the two-time defending champs and Molly Nohr and Tori Markey for the Matadors. Both teams also come in after winning regionals in impressive fashion. It's just too hard going against Bishop Montgomery due to its wins over Muir and Artesia plus its strong league schedule with the likes of St. Bernard, Bishop Amat and St. Paul. Miramonte's NorCal finals foe, Sacred Heart Cathedral, was a strong team, but the rest of its schedule hasn't been quite as difficult as Bishop Montgomery's. Pick: Bishop Montgomery 66, Miramonte 61.
Div. IV Girls:
St. Bernard (Playa del Rey) vs. Marin Catholic (Kentfield)
The Vikings are a lot like fellow league member Bishop Montgomery in that they always seem to step up once the postseason starts. And like Bishop Montgomery, they have a terrific 1-2 combo in Alexis Kendricks and Shannon Clay. Marin Catholic, though, can create matchup problems for anyone because 6-3 Brooke Smith is such a great passer and 6-1 Nickie Warren can muscle up shots from inside the paint. St. Bernard will have to force some turnovers off some in-your-face defense for it to win. Marin Catholic has to continue the surge it began two weeks ago with balanced scoring and contributions from one or two bench players. St. Bernard is a lot like the Berkeley team that beat the Wildcats in January. But that was close and based on how MC took apart Ursuline last week, it looks like the Wildcats are a team that learns from their mistakes. Pick: Marin Catholic 59, St. Bernard 58.
Div. V Girls:
La Jolla Country Day vs. Modesto Christian
Once the Crusaders showed way back in early December that they were good enough to beat Berkeley this season, it looked like these two were headed for a confrontation in the state final. La Jolla Country Day has had little resistance in making it back to Sacramento and Candice Wiggins is a leading Ms. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate. Modesto Christian hit a Ripon Christian road bump in the section final, but avenged that loss last week. The key player for MC is Ashley Faria. The senior guard probably will have the task of trying to slow down Wiggins. If she does, and Wiggins "only" scores around 25, the Crusaders are in the game. The inside duo of Courtney and Ashley Paris will be tough for LJCD, but the Torres have 6-1 Marissa Rivera inside so it's not as if they'll have no one who can counter the twins. Pick: La Jolla Country Day 72, Modesto Christian 64.