In the second matchup of the year between state heavyweights Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth and Rancho Christian of Temecula, this time at No. 1 and No. 2 in the rankings, it’s the No. 2 team that is victorious once again, as No. 2 Trailblazers win the rematch game, 78-62. The dynamic Sierra Canyon forward duo of B.J. Boston and Ziaire Williams combine for 50 points, as the Trailblazers will regain the state’s top ranking next week and be in good position for the upcoming CIF Southern Section Open Division playoffs.
Sierra Canyon was rolling early this season and was 14-0 heading into the championship game of The Classic at Damien, where the two-time defending CIF Open champs met Rancho Christian on December 30. Sierra Canyon couldn’t stop the penetration of the Eagles’ guards, particularly Gonzaga-bound Dom Harris and lost in overtime 85-81.
On Saturday night, however, Sierra Canyon was much more prepared. The Trailblazers employed an effective full-court press and got a big offensive game from its two standout forwards to pull away down the stretch and record a 78-62 victory over the Eagles before a near capacity crowd at Pasadena City College.
Senior forward Brandon Boston led the way for Sierra Canyon (16-2) with 30 points, while Ziaire Williams added 20 for a team that came into this No. 1 vs. No. 2 game having lost two of its previous three games, including that setback right before the New Year.
“We got to win championships with defense; the offense will come,” said Boston, who is headed to Kentucky after moving west from Norcross, Ga.
Harris, who finished with a team-high 17 points for Rancho Christian (16-3), was his team’s only double-digit scorer. He just didn’t have the impact, nor did any of the Eagles’ quick guards, that they did in the previous matchup with Sierra Canyon. Evan Mobley, last year’s state junior of the year and one of the nation’s best players, Bryson Stephens and Jayce Catchings all had nine points apiece for Rancho Christian. Sierra Canyon’s relatively easy win also snapped a two-game losing streak against Rancho Christian, which beat the Trailblazers last year at the same facility in its final loss of the regular season as coach Andre Chevalier’s club bounced back and rolled to the CIF state crown thereafter.
Sierra Canyon led 43-34 at halftime after Williams, one of the nation’s top unsigned players, hit a 3-pointer right before the halftime buzzer. Rancho Christian attacked on the other end much too early with a chance to cut its deficit to four or three points and Sierra Canyon made the Eagles pay. Williams had 18 points in the first half.
The other pivotal moment came when Rancho Christian was attempting to get back in the game down 10, and Boston hit two big 3-pointers to sap the energy away from the Eagles. Sierra Canyon had a big advantage on the boards and when the Eagles didn’t shoot well as a team it spelled doom down the stretch. Rancho Christian went scoreless for over a five minute stretch late in the second quarter and third quarter, as Sierra Canyon opened up a 51-36 advantage.
“Rancho Christian looked tired and there was a lot of second chance points for Sierra Canyon in second half,” said Paul Westphal, who did color commentary on the KDOC broadcast of the game. “Mobley had very few touches and Rancho Christian’s shot selection was questionable at times.”
Sophomore Amari Bailey added nine points, with Shy Odom and Terren Frank adding six apiece for the victors.
Rancho Christian, which came in as the state’s top-ranked team and No. 17 in the latest FAB 50 National Rankings, saw its 13-game winning streak snapped. It was coming off a 103-71 Friday night win over freshman Mikey Williams and San Ysidro. Sierra Canyon, No. 20 in the latest FAB 50, was coming off a 78-58 loss to FAB 50-ranked Minnehaha Academy of Minnesota in front of 17,378 fans at the Target Center from the previous Saturday.
Both teams have tough out-of-state games coming up, but from the vantage point of the highly-competitive CIF Southern Section playoffs, the win was huge for Sierra Canyon, as the top seed in each of the two pools of four teams will have home court advantage in each of the three pool games. As for Rancho Christian, if it’s placed in the same pool as state No. 3 Centennial of Corona, the Huskies would have the advantage right now as the higher seed because of its head-to-head victory.
Rancho Christian and Sierra Canyon could meet in the CIFSS Open Division playoffs, but the way California’s playoff system is set up, the potential matchup that would really matter would be a CIF SoCal Open Division regional playoff showdown, whether that’s the third or fourth meeting of the season. The loser of that game would be done for the season, with the winner closer to the ultimate goal of a CIF Open Division state crown. Should the two teams meet in the section playoffs, the loser would have another chance to atone for the loss.
Tonight, Sierra Canyon atoned for its first loss to Rancho Christian in a big way.