Friday’s games at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento highlighted by the D1 finals, which saw the Huskies and big man Onyeka Okongwu capture their second CIF state title in three years. The Serra girls also won second CIF state title in their third championship appearance in six years. Other state championships earned on Friday by Crossroads in D2 boys, West Campus of Sacramento in D4 girls, View Park of Los Angeles in D4 boys and Rolling Hills Prep of San Pedro in D4 girls.
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(Writeups for D1 boys, D2 boys by lead boys basketball analyst Ronnie Flores)
(Writeups for D1 girls, D4 girls by lead girls basketball analyst Harold Abend)
(Additional writeups by Mark Tennis)
DIVISION I BOYS
Chino Hills 73, Las Lomas (Walnut Creek) 68
The way the boys basketball team at Chino Hills had been rolling through its competition in the CIF Southern Section and SoCal regional D1 playoffs, it was going to take a special performance from Las Lomas to knock off the SoCal representative in the boys state D1 title game. The scrappy and underdog Knights were shell-shocked early, as the Huskies jumped out to a 23-9 lead after one period and led by as many as 22 points in the first half.
Las Lomas, however, settled down over the final three periods to make the game interesting. The North Coast Section D2 runner-up began to use its quickness to get easy baskets and pressure Chino Hills’ big guns into foul trouble in the second half. In the end, however, Chino Hills made enough offensive plays and came up with critical stops without their big man in the lineup to capture its second CIF state crown in three seasons.
Two years ago, Chino Hills ran roughshod through SoCal, state and national competition to finish 35-0 and were No. 1 in the FAB 50 national rankings to earn the mythical national crown that comes with that distinction.
This season, the Huskies had to scrap and claw their way to a CIF state crown, as they finished the calendar year 2017 with a 4-6 won-loss record. Their third head coach in three years, Dennis Latimore, also had to establish his offensive philosophy and settle his rotation. Chino Hills ended up its season on a 11-game winning streak after a gut-check 66-65 loss in Baseline League play to Los Osos of Rancho Cucamonga.
Chino Hills’ big man, of course, is junior Onyeka Okongwu, and the Huskies dominated first half play behind the play of its 6-foot-9 Mr. Basketball State Player of the Year candidate and 6-foot-8 senior Andre Ball. Ball, who had 32 points in the SoCal regional title game win over Pasadena, had 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first half. Chino Hills (26-11 and No. 9 in the state this week) shot 61 percent (20-of-33) from the field in the first half when it built a 44-29 lead. Las Lomas, which was only outscored by one point (21-20) in the second quarter, made only 31 percent of its field goal attempts (8-of-26) before intermission.
“The guys just got united,” said Latimore, who was in the building earlier in the day to see the former program he coached (View Park of Los Angeles) win a state crown. “The team showed everyone that we were more than an individual player and an individual person. The way it started, all of us coaches thought for awhile we’d just sit back and relax. But it became an whole different ordeal (in the second half).”
The legs for Las Lomas (31-4 and No. 17 in the state this week) came alive in the second half and the Knights began to get good looks at the basket. They used their backcourt foot speed to get to the rim. With his Chino Hills team leading 64-54 with 3:50 remaining in the game, The Big O (as Okongwu is known in basketball circles) picked up his fifth and disqualifying foul. With Ball (the cousin of the three Ball brothers who all started with Okongwu on that 35-0 club three seasons ago) having three fouls as well and spark plug guard Ofure Ujadghele with four fouls, the Knights had a real chance to get within a couple of possessions or perhaps pull off the upset, but they rushed a couple of long-range shots and Chino Hills made just enough point blank baskets to hold on to the win as neither Ball (17 points) nor Ujadghele (20 points) fouled out.
What also gave the Knights’ faithful hope was Chino Hills’ woes at the free throw line. The Huskies made only 13-of-25 after intermission and 17-of-35 for the game. Las Lomas made 17-of-22 free throws for the game. Chino Hills did not make a 3-pointer on four attempts after making nine in the SoCal regional final win, while Las Lomas made 5-of-27 from behind the arc.
Robert Prince, one of NorCal’s best guards, finished with team-highs of 24 points and seven rebounds. His backcourt running mate, senior Nate Robinson, added 18 points and seven rebounds.
As for the Big O, he concluded a dominant playoff run with 27 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks before the foul disqualification. With smaller players draped all over him, Okongwu made big plays and kept his composure, as he led a team that was much-maligned after his friend and former teammate Melo Ball checked out of Chino Hills last September. The Big O and the team had plenty to prove, but he’s always kept things in proper perspective and has played with great purpose ever since his older brother Nnamdi died in the summer of 2014 as the result of a tragic skateboarding accident.
“Every game I play, it’s for my older brother,” said Okongwu. “All of this playoff run he was with me. It’s all for him.”
Okongwu’s play this season also puts into perspective just how dominant the 2015-16 team was with national player of the year Lonzo Ball (now a rookie with the L.A. Lakers), him, and Melo Ball in the lineup as 14-year-old starters. Last season, Melo Ball was the Cal-Hi Sports State Sophomore of the Year, but this year without him as the focal point of the offense, Okongwu became the focal point of the Chino Hills attack and put together another championship-worthy run for his school.
“Both are great,” Okongwu said when asked to compare the two CIF state titles. “We started out tonight with a lot of energy. Me and my teammates just did what we had to do to finish strong. To be D1 state champions is just a totally great feeling.”
“Their big man was tough to deal with and we threw a lot at him,” said Las Lomas head coach Brian Dietschy, whose program was making its first ever CIF state finals appearance. “They took us inside and that hurt us. I didn’t know what to think at the beginning. It was too much of a slow start and we stuck in man too long. We slowed them down a little once we went to zone.”
DIVISION I GIRLS
Serra (Gardena) 70, Sacred Heart Cathedral (San Francisco) 54
The way Serra exploded out of the starting gate, it looked for a while that the Cavaliers were going to run away and never look back.
The CIF SoCal regional champs bolted to an 18-4 first quarter lead, but despite the final score being the largest margin the Cavaliers had in the game, NorCal champ Sacred Heart Cathedral did not go down easy.
“We set some goals at the beginning of the season that weren’t just about winning basketball games,” said Serra head coach Mckinsey Hadley. “But this team was able to achieve the ultimate goal of winning a state championship. The hard work, dedication and effort, and the maturation they’ve shown has been exemplary and paid off in a state title.”
Cheyenne Givens led Serra (25-8 and No. 9 in the state this week) with 20 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field. She made her only 3-pointer but was a pedestrian 7-of-10 from the free throw line. Givens did go 4-for-4 at the charity stripe down the stretch after Sacred Heart Cathedral had closed to 55-50 with three minutes remaining.
Alexis Tucker, a 5-foot-10 junior forward, was everything as advertised for the Cavaliers. Her outside shooting wasn’t spectacular but around the basket she can finish down low and when she takes a girl to the block she’s hard to stop. Tucker had 12 of her 19 points and six of her nine rebounds in a first half that saw Serra with a 31-18 lead, but she was held in check in the third quarter by the Irish.
After senior star Rachael Duru (five points, nine rebounds) made her first basket of the game with three minutes left to put the Cavaliers up 57-50, Tucker made a spin move in the lane, scored and was fouled, and when she completed the three-point play and then followed that up with two free throws after an Irish basket that made it 62-52 with 1:40 remaining, the deal was pretty much sealed.
“I just wanted to push myself after they made that final run,” said Tucker, who has offers from Michigan, Texas Tech, Gonzaga, and almost every Big West school, plus interest from some schools in the Pac-12. “I didn’t want to think that floor is 94 feet long. I wouldn’t let that floor get me. I just had to keep pushing.”
High school courts are 84 feet long but college and NBA courts like the one at the Golden 1 Center have an extra 10 feet in length.
Sacred Heart Cathedral made more than just the one final run before finally running out of steam. After trailing by 13 at the half, the Fighting Irish opened the second half on an 8-0 run that cut it to 31-26, and then they inched ever so close at 34-31 before a media timeout helped Hadley get the Cavaliers back in stride to close out the third quarter on a 10-4 run that got them to 47-38 entering the final period.
Although the Fighting Irish made the final run after falling behind 55-42 with 5 minutes left, it was from the point of that media timeout that the Cavaliers defense began to take control. All in all, Serra forced 27 turnovers, and although only 11 were in the second half, seven came after the media timeout.
“We told the team ‘thank God for the timeout,” mused Hadley when asked what he told the team after the Irish had closed to three points.
“Before the timeout, we missed some shots and had some turnovers ourselves and let them run,” continued Hadley. “But we turned up our defensive intensity and got the game back to the order it was in the first half. We’re not the deepest or tallest team but we want to control the pace. If you play our pace you’ll find you don’t have the gas in your tank at the end like we have.”
Serra now has a CIF Division I title to go with its 2013 Division IV state title. With the championship, the Cavaliers also are now 2-1 in CIF title games after a heartbreaking 65-61 double overtime loss to McClatchy (Sacramento) in the 2015 Division I state championship.
After a 5-12 start to the season and just getting back to and over .500 last week in the NorCal finals, Sacred Heart Cathedral head coach LyRyan Russell saw the negatives of the game but the positives of the season as well.
“We came out ice cold and had too many turnovers. You can’t win a game with 27 turnovers,” Russell said. “But I’m proud of my girls for turning things around this season. It takes a lot of character to come back from a 5-12 start.
“Even in this game when we were down big at the half I felt like the game was still winnable,” continued Russell. “That’s the kind of team we have. No quit. I go into every game thinking and believing we can win. All we needed was a chance and that’s why we’re here.”
Sacred Heart Cathedral (15-15 and No. 20 in the state) was looking for its sixth state championship but instead falls to 5-4 in CIF state title games.
As has been the case this season, a lot of girls scored for the Fighting Irish, with nine getting their name in the scorebook compared to six for Serra, but while three Cavaliers hit double-figure scoring including Smith College-bound Dashelle Gleissner with 10 points, only one Irish girl was in double-figures and that was senior wing Gianna Silvestri with 14 points. Irish senior forward Rainah Smith added eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
For Serra, it’s right back to preparing for next season and re-igniting the Del Rey League rivalry with Bishop Montgomery of Torrance. The Cavaliers were 1-2 against Bishop Montgomery with the teams splitting a pair of overtime games and Serra losing by 19 at home in league. The 71-68 overtime loss that came in the CIF Southern Section Open Division consolation game cost the Cavaliers the top seed in the D1 SoCal Regionals to the Knights, but obviously not a state championship.
“We embraced the No. 2 seed, but it did instill in us a hunger and we decided it was about us,” was Hadley’s answer when asked if a rivalry with Bishop Montgomery helped fuel the D1 state playoff run. “Since that last loss to them, we haven’t had a single-digit win.”
DIVISION II BOYS
Crossroads (Santa Monica) 59, Alameda 53
For two teams that didn’t win CIF section titles, there was a lot of incentive to win a CIF state crown on Friday afternoon in a game that had plenty of sub-plots. Crossroads, which was looking to overcome its section title game loss to a L.A. Brentwood team it beat twice during the regular season, came out a bit shell-shocked, as Alameda, in search of its first ever CIF state crown with a supportive crowd cheering its every move, was confident and hot from the outside. Alameda (28-6) hit three of its first five 3-pointers and took an early 16-6 lead.
After Crossroads (25-9) trailed only 18-13 after one period, it seemed to give the Roadrunners a physical and emotional lift to be back in the game after such as slow start. Leading player Shareef O’Neal felt his team came in with some butterflies, and personally, he was winded from the built-up nerves. After Crossroads settled down, it took control of the game with a 15-8 second quarter advantage and, besides a few shaky possessions late in the game, had control of the contest as the Roadrunners captured the program’s third CIF title. Crossroads previously won in D3 in 1987 (the last season before the CIF went to a five-division format) and in D4 in 1997, when it was led by Mr. Basketball point guard Baron Davis.
“We knew we were going to have some butterflies, but we found our rhythm, and our defense pulled through in the second half,” said first-year Crossroads head coach Anthony Davis, who had been an assistant coach at the school for six seasons prior to this season.
O’Neal made sure his team wasn’t going to let this game slip away. He finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks, but it wasn’t size, length and athleticism that was the story of this game, it was free throw shooting. While it was the weakest aspect of his dad’s NBA Hall of Fame career, Shaquille O¹Neal was likely proud of the way his son shot from the charity stripe down the stretch in the final game of his Crossroads career. O’Neal made 7-of-8 free throws in the fourth quarter, 10-of-11 in the second half and 13-of-17 for the game.
Alameda, a NCS D2 semifinalist, only made 13-of-28 three throws. After making four 3-pointers in the first half, the Hornets did not make one in the second half.
D.J. Houston, a senior guard, was Crossroads’ second double-digit scorer with 15 points. Benno Zecic, a 6-foot-3 senior, led Alameda with 16 points.
DIVISION III GIRLS
West Campus (Sacramento) 75, Sunny Hills (Fullerton) 47
It was 26-4 after the first quarter and 47-27 at halftime as the Warriors rolled to their second straight state title with this year’s D3 crown following the one won last year in D4. For a time, it also looked like they would get close to the state title game team scoring record of 89 points set in 2010 by St. Mary’s of Stockton in a D3 contest.
“I was more comfortable (than last year) but not relaxed,” said point guard Kiara Jefferson, who had 21 points and four assists in her final game for West Campus before she heads to UCLA. “They fought to get here just like we did.”
Nia Johnson, who is headed to Cal State Bakersfield, also played like the D1 recruit that she is with a game-high 23 points with 12 rebounds and five assists. Gabby Rones added 14 points for the Warriors while freshman Simone Johnson (not related to Nia) had 13 rebounds.
Sunny Hills (24-11) got 15 points and eight rebounds from leading player Jessica Barrow. Senior Kayli Arii also had 15 points.
West Campus (29-7) looked like it would have been more than competitive in an even higher division than just going up from D4 to D3. The Warriors played in the Platinum Division of the West Coast Jamboree where they lost three times. All the way up to D1 maybe not, but D2 where Pleasant Valley of Chico and Redondo Union are the state finalists definitely.
DIVISION IV BOYS
View Park (Los Angeles) 74, Stuart Hall (San Francisco) 62
A huge first half by freshman Christian Johnson and a similar outburst in the second half by senior Kamren Storrs carried the Knights (27-8) to their first CIF state title. Johnson had 18 of his game-high 22 points in the first two quarters. Storrs had the bulk of his 14 points in the second half.
Stuart Hall (23-12) showed signs of a big fourth quarter comeback, but View Park made its free throws after being only 3-of-10 from the line entering that quarter. The Knights got a strong outing from junior guard Miles Amos, who had 21 points and gave everyone a scare when he took a hard fall in the third quarter while executing a follow-up dunk.
Both teams benefitted from competitive equity seedings and placements, but both of them also stepped up and played well in the postseason.
DIVISION IV GIRLS
Rolling Hills Prep (San Pedro) 57, Woodside Priory (Portola Valley) 53
After a runner-up finish in Division V last year, Rolling Hills Prep is the 2018 CIF Division IV state champion after edging Woodside Priory in a game in which it trailed 29-25 at halftime and most of the third quarter and no team had more than a five point lead.
The Huskies (31-2) were led by sophomore Macy Pakele with a double-double 16 points and 10 rebounds with five assists, fellow sophomore Aly Maxey with 16 points, and 6-foot-4 freshman center Clarice Akunwafo had a double-double 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, including one down low on Woodside Priory 6-foot-4 junior post Ila Lane with less than 10 seconds left and the Huskies clinging to a 55-53 lead.
Woodside Priory (17-15) took its last lead at 41-40 on a basket by lone senior Tatiana Reese with just over a minute left in the third quarter but shortly thereafter she picked up her third foul with 40.5 seconds left in the third. Then, on the first possession of the fourth quarter, Reese fouled out with 7:42 remaining to play and that greatly hurt the Panthers’ chance of winning.
Lane led both teams in scoring, rebounding and blocks with 20, 17 and six, but Reese was the only other player in double-figure scoring with 12 for a Panthers’ team that made 15 less free throws than Rolling Hills Prep but out-rebounded them, 51-32.