Boys BB: Monarchs No. 1 contender

With its victory over Student Sports FAB 50 ranked Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia) at the Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., combined with some other results of showcase games at the event, has state No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana in serious contention for a boys basketball mythical national title.

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Mater Dei’s 79-67 win over Neumann-Goretti (Philadelphia), ranked No. 25 in last week’s Student Sports FAB 50 national rankings, Monday afternoon at the Hoophall Classic was a good victory, but nothing unusual or unexpected for a team that has won big out-of-state games before. After all, Mater Dei entered the game 18-0, the No. 1 ranked team in California and three-time defending state champion.

It’s how the Monarchs won and what transpired in the other big games at the event that puts the Monarchs in contention for what would be a program first — a mythical boys basketball national title.

As long as Mater Dei has Stanley Johnson, the Arizona bound forward and state Mr. Basketball front-runner, Mater Dei has a chance to win every game it plays. Against Neumann-Goretti, however, Johnson was saddled with some foul trouble but others stepped out to help Mater Dei move to 19-0.

Mater Dei led 17-11 after one period and 39-27 at halftime. The Monarchs were in control the whole way and only got outscored in one period — the final one by two points (25-23) when the game was all but decided.

Junior guard Rex Pflueger had a big game for Mater Dei, scoring 30 points, making 4-of-5 3-pointers in the process, and grabbing eight rebounds. Pflueger, junior guard LaVette Parker (17 points, 5-of-9 3-pointers) and sophomore center M.J. Cage (20 points, 12 rebounds, 3 steals) all played 32 minutes in the victory. Johnson played 24 minutes and finished with 12 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but turned the ball over 10 times.

Before leaving for Massachusetts, Mater Dei won two league games last week against Servite of Anaheim (62-47) and state-ranked St. John Bosco of Bellflower, which also won a game at the Hoophall Classic on Saturday against St. Francis of Baltimore.

The victor over St. John Bosco last Wednesday was important because the Braves are supposed to give the Monarchs their toughest league test. Mater Dei actually trailed 30-23 at halftime and 40-35 with 2:55 remaining in the third quarter before pulling out the victory with a late 28-4 run. Johnson finished the game with 21 points and nine rebounds while Cage had 17 points and 14 rebounds.

Mater Dei was No. 5 in last week’s Student Sports FAB 50, but in the two games before it took the floor against Neumann-Goretti, the nation’s top-two ranked teams were upset. National No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde Fla.) could not overcome a show-stopping performance by Mr. Basketball USA national player of the year candidate Cliff Alexander in a 73-69 defeat to his Curie (Chicago) team.

A game earlier, No. 2 Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) lost to Whitney Young (Chicago), 53-50. Curie and Whitney Young came in right behind Mater Dei in the FAB 50 at No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. No. 4 Rainier Beach (Seattle) remained unbeaten with a win on Monday and also previously defeated Whitney Young.

Mater Dei doesn’t quite have a win like the one Rainier Beach has over Whitney Young and Montverde Academy doesn’t deserve to drop too far either because it has defeated far more good teams than either Rainier Beach or Mater Dei, including No. 3 White Station (Memphis) on Saturday night in Springfield, Mo. The updated Student Sports FAB 50 national rankings will be published Tuesday evening.

The last California club to win the mythical national title was for the 1999-2000 season when a Tyson Chandler-led Dominguez club finished No. 1 in the FAB 50. Prior to that, is was Long Beach Poly in 1983-1984 when it beat fabulous teams from Mater Dei and Crenshaw of Los Angeles on the road to a CIF Div. I state title. Ironically, both those teams finished with two losses overall.

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