The top-seeded Fairfax Lions must get by one final obstacle in order to take home the City Section 3-A boys' basketball championship.
The Lions will play third-seeded San Pedro tonight at 7:30 at the Sports Arena.
The Lions have a 21-1 record, having lost only to Banning, 55-51, in Banning's tournament Dec. 29.
Fairfax has strength up front, with 6-7 Sean Higgins and 6-5 Tony Thomas, plus proficiency from the bench. "Our bench has really come through this year and is one of the reasons for our success," Fairfax Coach Harvey Kitani said.
Fairfax opened the playoffs by beating Venice, 71-51. Earlier in the season, Venice had taken the Lions into double overtime before losing, 71-70. The Lions advanced to tonight's final by beating South Gate in the quarterfinals, 67-42, and Wilson in the semifinals, 59-45. San Pedro, meanwhile, finished the regular season with a 14-5 record. The Pirates lost to Bell in the last game of the regular season, but that was after they had already clinched the Eastern-Marine League title.
In the playoffs, San Pedro edged Reseda in the quarterfinals, 76-73, then posted a 77-69 semifinal victory over second-seeded Van Nuys. Fairfax beat Van Nuys this season, 59-54.
Despite Fairfax's better record, the Lions are expecting a rough night. "We're going to have to play hard and as a team to beat San Pedro," Kitani said. "They looked impressive in their last two victories."
In those two games, San Pedro guard Otis Livingston and forward Zlatko Josic played well. Livingston averaged 20 points, and Josic was effective on the boards, pulling down 10 rebounds in each. "Otis is a real fine ballplayer, and we're going to have keep the ball out of his hands and control the boards," Kitani said.
San Pedro's Coach Jack Kordich said that his team must rebound well to have a chance. "If we get killed on the boards, it's going to be a long night," he said.
Sophomore center Higgins and senior forward Thomas have played a large part in the Lions' success. Higgins averaged 17.2 points a game and 7.9 rebounds, and Thomas averaged 17.2 points.
In the playoffs Higgins has averaged just under 20 points a game, hitting often from the outside. "I think Higgins will be one of the top players in California next year and could even be this year," Kitani said.
Kordich, who believes Thomas is the stronger of the two inside, hopes to double-team him while playing Higgins man-to-man outside. "We won't be able to stop them, but if we can control the inside and hang on the boards, we can stay close and even win," Kordich said.