Boys BB: Statement win for J.W. North

In our first mock draft of the teams to compete in the CIF Southern Section’s open division playoffs, J.W. North of Riverside made the cut. The Huskies were unbeaten on the court, but didn’t own a signature victory. That all changed when the Huskies defeated state No. 8 Bishop Montgomery, 64-54, Monday night at the MLK Day Showdown at La Salle High School in Pasadena. Read one for other event highlights.

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J.W. North of Riverside hasn’t got a lot of serious attention as one of Southern California’s best teams so far this season despite being unbeaten on the court. The Huskies did win their division of the Maxpreps Holiday Classic, but didn’t have that signature win that would catapult them into the state top 20 rankings and make the SoCal basketball community look at them as serious contenders in the CIF Southern Section’s new open division playoffs.

That all changed on Monday night when the Huskies moved to 17-0 on-the-court this season with a 65-54 victory over Bishop Montgomery of Torrance, which was No. 8 in last week’s state rankings with only one loss to No. 7 Redondo Union of Redondo Beach on its resume.

Bishop Montgomery’s backcourt of Stephen Thompson Jr. and Long Beach State-bound Justin Bibbins gets plenty of publicity, but North’s backcourt of Dikymbe Martin and Deshon Taylor was the stars of the game with a combined 45 points. Martin, a sophomore, finished with 23 points while Taylor, a talented unsigned senior, netted 22 points.

“We’re smaller than last year’s team, but were more intense,” Taylor said in a comparison of this North team to the one last year that advanced to the SoCal Division II regional final. “We also have more chemistry because a lot of us played travel ball together and we like to pass a lot.”

In the CIFSS Open Division mock we published last Friday so fans and coaches would have a better understanding of what to expect in its first year, North was the No. 15 seed pitted against No. 2 Loyola of Los Angeles. If the Huskies finish the regular season unbeaten, however, they’ll be seeded much higher than that.

One CIFSS open division contender that is reeling a bit is Cantwell Sacred Heart of Montebello. On Monday night, the Cardinals lost their third consecutive game against a quality opponent, losing to state No. 13 Sierra Canyon, 45-42. Cantwell entered last week ranked No. 12 in the state, but dropped a key Camino Real League game at home on Friday to fast-rising Cathedral of Los Angeles (54-47) and lost on Saturday to Serra of Gardena (55-52).

Sierra Canyon bounced back from a one-point loss to unranked Price of Los Angeles two Saturdays ago, but for coach Ty Nichols the win over Cantwell Sacred Heart is just part of his young team’s overall preparation.

“Everybody gives us their best shot, but the funny thing is we haven’t won anything,” Nichols said. “We prepare to win everyday, but the open division is not a forgone conclusion. Getting through the Alpha League is not a walk in the park. We’ve got to step up and get it done.”

For Cantwell Sacred Heart, its open division candidacy is still strong with previous wins over Newark Memorial, Mayfair of Lakewood, Price and Chino Hills, the latter which won the final MLK contest of the day 63-56 over state No. 20 El Camino Real of Woodland Hills. Chino Hills entered the contest ranked No. 17.

UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, a sophomore, led Chino Hills with 16 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and six steals.

Brandon Russell, a reserve and the son of former Ban Bernardino High School, Long Beach State and NBA player Bryon Russell, led El Camino Real with 16 points. El Camino, which has an important slate of games coming up this week, saw shooting guard Julian Richardson leave the game in the first half with concussion-like symptoms and Santa Clara-bound Evan Wardlow take a hard spill. He finished the game but wasn’t moving well at the end of it.

Coming off its big win over Cantwell Sacred Heart, Cathedral of Los Angeles moved to 12-1 on the season with a 67-43 victory over Highland of Palmdale. Guard Ifeoluwa Kalejaiye led the way with 19 points for the Phantoms.

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