Mater Dei and its main man win fourth straight CIF state title and post best season record in state history with win over Bishop O’Dowd in the Open Division. St. John Bosco holds off Folsom to win Division II crown. Bishop Montgomery also is the third CIFSS Open Division team to win a CIF championship on the day with its romp past Moreau in the Division IV game.
(D2 and D4 recaps written by Ronnie Flores; Open Division by Mark Tennis)
(All games at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento; attendance for the day was 8,314)
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Mater Dei (Santa Ana) 71, Bishop O’Dowd (Oakland) 61
There was just too much history for Bishop O’Dowd to overcome that was on the line for the Monarchs.
Not only was Mater Dei trying to tie a CIF state record by winning a fourth straight CIF state title, not only was All-American Stanley Johnson trying to become just the second player overall and first in the CIF’s top division to be a key contributor on four straight state title teams, but the Monarchs also were going for a 35-0 finish that is the best record of any team in state history.
The Monarchs tied the consecutive state titles record set in 2003 by Price of Los Angeles, but those titles were all in Division V. Johnson was a major contributor as a freshman starter for the team’s CIF Division I crown in 2011 and followed it up as more of the team’s star on title teams in 2012 (Division I) and 2013 (Open).
“Can’t explain it really, it’s really just a blessing,” said Johnson, who will play in Wednesday’s McDonald’s All-American Game. “All that National Player of the Year stuff, it’s not what I want. This is what I wanted. It’s about our team. Now don’t get get me wrong, this is big, this is the best accomplishment of my career up to this point.”
In Mater Dei’s long history, the team was unbeaten once before at 29-0 in 1985 but that was a year in which the CIF Southern Section teams skipped the state playoffs. The Monarchs also have won 35 or more games before (they went 36-1 in 1995), but this is the team’s first unbeaten team to win a state title.
Even more significantly, Mater Dei’s 35-0 record is the best in California history. The Monarchs have bested the previous best of 34-0 set in 1982 by Drake of San Anselmo. Ironically, a few members and the coach of that Drake team were at Sleep Train Arena on Friday night watching the Pirates fall in the CIF D3 final to Chaminade of West Hills.
“I am estastic,” said head coach Gary McKnight, who won his 11th CIF state crown (highest total of any other coach in state history). “I am 61 years old, so can you imagine going 34-1? Winning the last game has happened 12 times. I just love being with the kids on this team.”
The Monarchs started slow and Johnson didn’t score until just before the first quarter horn sounded. He took over in the second quarter by scoring 11 points. In that period, Mater Dei took the lead twice, and extended it to 28-22 at halftime.
O’Dowd had the lead down to 31-25 and 33-27 in the third quarter before the Monarchs went on a 9-2 run to get their lead into double digits. In the fourth quarter, two baskets by Johnson put the lead up to 51-40 and it was essentially over.
Bishop O’Dowd enjoyed its early lead mostly due to the play of guard Paris Austin. With standout junior Ivan Rabb getting bottled up by Mater Dei’s defense, Austin had seven points by the middle of the first period. He ended with 23 points. Rabb struggled on free throws (he was 0-for-5) but did collect a game-high 16 rebounds and had 10 points and three blocked shots.
“We wanted to win every quarter but we didn’t do a good job of of executing on offense or defense, especially in the second quarter when we committed too many turnovers,” said O’Dowd coach Lou Richie. “We definitely had confidence coming in but it was the turnovers, 14 at halftime and 20 for the game. You’re not going to beat the top team in the country with 20 turnovers.”
Johnson led all scorers in the game with 25 points and was sensational setting up teammates with eight assists. Sophomore M.J. Cage had 16 points and eight rebounds while Isaiah Juarez was another factor with 11 points.
“I wanted this team to go down as Mater Dei’s best ever,” Johnson said. “As far as me being the greatest player ever from California? That’s something for the sportswriters to talk about and decide. Until I saw it earlier, I didn’t even know Bill Walton was from California. I want to be in the top four on Mount Rushmore.”
“I never saw this coming,” McKnight added. “To survive against the the teams we played in the CIFSS Open Division, in the regional, I can’t say enough about these kids. Obviously, Stanley is the best we ever had, but the other guys stepped up. He’s also a reporter’s dream. He’s so smart and articulate. I’m was feeling a little stressed before the game but know I’m so proud of everyone in the organization.”
Mater Dei will end as the state’s No. 1 team for the ninth time and also will be No. 1 in at least one national poll. The nation’s consensus No. 1 team and No. 1 team in the final Student Sports FAB 50, however, probably will be determined at next week’s Dick’s Nationals in New York if either Montverde Academy of Florida or Rainier Beach of Washington win the title. Mater Dei could not be invited to that event due to CIF guidelines. If neither of those teams win it, then the Monarchs would be the consensus No. 1.
“We have kids who are going to go right into other sports,” McKnight said. “I mean, you can only go so far. If the CIF said we could go, would we go? We would go. I love New York, especially the steaks.”
O’Dowd wrapped up a 28-5 record (with two losses to Mater Dei) and could still finish as high as No. 3 in the final state rankings. The Dragons were No. 2 in the state coming in and were No. 13 in the FAB 50.
St. John Bosco (Bellflower) 63, Folsom 54
It’s been a long and trying season for the boys basketball team at St. John Bosco. It suffered through player and staff defections and had to survive one of the nation’s toughest schedules, not to mention rebounding from two losses in the CIF Southern Section’s Open Division playoffs.
The Braves also had to deal with a Folsom team that shot well in the first half and just wouldn’t quit when Bosco took control of the state title game in the third quarter. Folsom (32-3) forced a plethora of turnovers in the final quarter after trailing by seven points late in the third period, but Jordan Ford’s four-point play pulled the Bulldogs within two points (56-54) with 1:03 remaining in the game. The Braves, however, made free throws and got timely baskets from UConn-bound Daniel Hamilton down the stretch to clinch the program’s first state title.
“It’s been a season of ups and downs, but we never lost that focus, never lost that spirit and fight to get here,” said Tyler Dorsey, the highly-regarded St. John Bosco junior guard who scored a game-high 24 points and had seven rebounds. “We had a big target on our shoulders and we wanted to send out the seniors the right way.”
After Ford’s four-point play, Dorsey was fouled with 51 seconds remaining and made both free throws of a one-and-one situation to give St. John Bosco (23-11) a 58-54 lead. With 28.4 seconds remaining, Hamilton came up with a big rebound of Folsom’s last-gasp 3-pointer that could have cut its deficit back to one and the Student Sports All-American candidate made both free throws to essentially seal the win.
Hamilton finished with 22 points, 13 rebounds and two steals for Bosco. Vance Jackson was urged on by St. John Bosco coach Derrick Taylor to compete on the boards at the first period break and at halftime and the talented sophomore forward responded, finishing with 13 points and 17 rebounds.
Bosco’s “Big Three” scored all but four of the Braves’ points and made 14-of-20 free throws. Folsom, the CIF Sac Joaquin Section Division II champs, made 7-of-15 free throws and shot 30 percent from the field (20-of-66).
“You can’t shoot 30 percent, then 25 percent (on 3-pointers) and 46 percent,” Folsom coach Mike Wall said. “That’s not going to get it done, but I can’t fault our effort. Give them credit, their length, quickness and
their ability to close affected us. But they didn’t close out when we were at the free throw line.”
Shots from the charity stripe notwithstanding, Folsom competed and got a big game from Jordan, whom Dorsey called a “good and shifty” sophomore guard. Ford scored 15 points and hit 2-of-4 on 3-pointers in the first half. He finished with 20 points, making 3-of-9 shots from long range. Junior post Colin Russell worked hard to finish with his 11 points and nine rebounds.
At the conclusion of the game, Bosco’s players mobbed each other, but for Hamilton and the coaching staff, the weight of expectations were lifted off their shoulders. Hamilton, who has two older brothers that play professional basketball and another (Isaac) currently at UCLA, cracked a smile because he knows this game ended a season that turned into a learning lesson and is the beginning of another set of expectations as he enters college.
“It’s definitely a bragging rights kind of thing with my brothers and going out with a state title is big,” Hamilton said. “People say I am going to be the best (among us), but honestly it’s my older brothers that want me to be the best. When we were younger playing, we got into a lot of fights. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be the player I am today.
“Winning state was more of a relief, to be honest. Just all the trials and tribulations of the season because a lot of stuff happened behind the scenes.”
For Taylor, he’s previously won CIF Southern Section and CIF L.A. City Section titles, so it’s a bit ironic in a season in which he didn’t win a section title and suffered more losses than any of his career, he ends up coaching a team that won its last game.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy for the players on the team,” Taylor said. “A lot of things tested our dedication and our soul.”
St. John Bosco also followed up its CIF Open Division championship from last December in football with a the CIF state hoops crown. The wrestling team also had the most points for a smaller school at the CIF state finals, but that does not count for a state title by the CIF or by Cal-Hi Sports.
Bishop Montgomery (Torrance) 85, Moreau Catholic (Hayward) 44
In the week coming into this state title game, Moreau Catholic coach Frank Knight received some phone calls and messages congratulating him on the success of his young team. This season, the Mariners, who start only freshmen and sophomores, won the program’s first ever CIF North Coast Section title and NorCal regional title.
Knight, who starred at Fremont of Oakland and led the Tigers to the Division I NorCal title in 1995, also had coaches who had went against or seen Bishop Montgomery dynamo Justin Bibbins offer their advice of how to try and slow the Long Beach State-bound point guard down. Knight and his coaching staff had a game plan coming in to force Bibbins left and double him in corners when they could, but Bibbins and his teammates had counter moves that delivered Bishop Montgomery its third state title.
Bishop Montgomery’s 41-point margin of victory was the largest ever for a CIF state championship game. The previous largest point differential was 36 points when 1997 Mr. Basketball Baron Davis led Crossroads of Santa Monica to a 93-57 victory over Encina of Sacramento and tied in 2007 when future NBA guard Jrue Holiday led Campbell Hall of North Hollywood to a 70-34 victory over Cardinal Newman of Santa Rosa.
“I don’t want the outcome of this game to take away from the season these guys had,” Knight said. “It’s tough now, but I want them to look at it as an experience that will help us in the future.”
Bibbins, who finished with 12 points, a team-high nine rebounds and four assists, set the tone with his ability to push the ball, find teammates in transition or get Moreau’s defense out of position by beating double teams. Bibbins’ final numbers don’t do justice to the impact he had on the game.
“We wanted to make Bibbins go left, but he had a counter for what we threw at him,” Knight said. “We worked on our rotation all week, but it’s hard to simulate it. Our kids are young.”
Bishop Montgomery (28-6), which previously won state titles in 2000 and 2001 under head coach Doug Mitchell and was thought to have graduated too much size off last year’s team that lost in the SoCal Division IV regional final, actually won the game on the glass. In the first half, the Knights consistently beat Moreau Catholic (27-7) on the glass and to loose balls and held a 25-13 rebounding advantage. Montgomery led 17-9 at the end of the first quarter and 36-19 at halftime.
For the game, the Knights out rebounded Moreau Catholic, 50-35.
“Throughout the year, we played with a chip on our shoulder,” Bibbins said. “I think the fact that people said we were too small, we all used it for fuel the whole season.”
Junior Stevie Thompson Jr. of Bishop Montgomery led all scorers with 20 points, continuing his hot shooting from his games in the SoCal regional. Knight said in addition to the rebounding, he felt Montgomery’s role players hit big shots and hurt his team. One of those players was freshman Ethan Thompson, Stevie’s younger brother, who hit two big 3-pointers. He was Montgomery’s third double-digit scorer with 14 points.
The Thompsons also made some history as they joined their father Steve Thompson Sr. as state champions. The elder Thompson, one of California’s greatest leapers ever, helped Crenshaw win Division I state titles in 1985 and 1986. He was a two-time first team all-state choice and never lost a varsity game in California with Crenshaw. Ironically, he played for the Kings and it was a surreal experience to witness his sons win a state title
in the same NBA arena he once played in.
“This is a great experience and I’m really happy for them,” Thompson Sr. said. “I never wanted to put pressure on them to play. Now that it’s all over, I’m ecstatic . This is exactly what I wanted for them playing basketball.”
“It feels good to accomplish something he did,” Thompson Jr. said.
Sophomore forward Oscar Frayer was the only player to hit double digits for Moreau Catholic. He finished with a team-high 10 points and six rebounds.
Like Knight, Mitchell also received a number of text and phone calls throughout the week. His were of a different nature. In 2009, Bishop Montgomery lost the Division IV state title game in heart-breaking fashion 65-64 to Salesian of Richmond on a buzzer-beating layup. Some of the players off that team, including state Division IV player of the year Justin Cobbs, sent words of encouragement.
“Our program gets a lot of support and this team gets a lot of it,” Mitchell said. “Actually, Justin Cobbs texted me several times. Our former players go to games all the time and sometimes they take two rows behind the bench. They are really excited for this group.”