Undefeated Mater Dei High School is looking for its third straight appearance in the Southern Section's large-schools division basketball final, and the Monarchs could very well meet an old nemesis in the title game.
Mater Dei and Long Beach Poly have played in the championship game two consecutive seasons and are on a collision course for a third meeting. Poly (19-7) meets Ocean View (23-3) at 8:45 tonight in the Long Beach Arena in one of the 5-A division semifinal games, and Mater Dei (27-0) faces Serra (21-5) Thursday night, same time, same place, in the other.
Mater Dei became the first Orange County school to win a large schools championship in 46 years when the Monarchs defeated Poly, 62-44, at the same facility in 1983. Poly avenged the loss with a 45-44 overtime win over the Monarchs in last year's title game at the Sports Arena and went on to win the State championship.
But before the Jackrabbits can entertain any thoughts of playing Mater Dei for the title, they have a third meeting against second-seeded Ocean View. The Seahawks breezed to a 73-60 win over the Jackrabbits in the Tournament of Champions as Poly struggled in an 8-6 start.
The Jackrabbits managed to turn their season around in a 71-69 win over Ocean View, coming back from a 20-6 deficit in the first quarter. Poly has won 11 of its past 12 games.
"We had a slow start, but we're finally there," Poly's first-year Coach Chris Kinder said. "I've kept a tight reign on the team, and we won't turn them lose until that championship game against Mater Dei.
"We want to show people we belong there. We are the defending champions. No one has taken our crown away. People have to beat us."
Center Vincent Camper leads a balanced Poly attack with 13.5-point scoring average. Ocean View, which has beaten two playoff opponents by an average margin of 26.5 points, is also balanced with sophomore Ricky Butler averaging 12 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
The Serra-Mater Dei game could be very entertaining. The Cavaliers scrimmaged the Monarchs in the preseason and lost, 93-85.
"It's going to be a good game," Serra Coach George McDaniel said. "I've scouted Mater Dei all season, and I know what they can do. We're tailor-made for them."
It remains to be seen if the Cavaliers can contain Tom Lewis. The 6-foot 8-inch senior averages 31.7 points per game and scored 35 points in Mater Dei's 100-51 win over Serra last year. The Cavaliers will counter with 6-5 center Mark Sutherlin and 6-3 forward Keith Malone inside.
In the 4-A semifinals, top-seeded Glendale (26-0) faces Lynwood (26-1) tonight and Dominguez (22-4) meets Buena (24-2) Thursday night. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7 at the Long Beach Arena.