The weekly poll in USA Today rates Mater Dei High School as the 13th best basketball team in the nation. If that's the case, the sport has hit some hard times.
The Monarchs continued their struggle through the 1985-86 season on Tuesday night in a 44-30 victory over Banning in the 14th Tournament of Champions at Cal Poly Pomona. It was Mater Dei's 35th consecutive win over the past two seasons, but it was one of the poorest efforts by a Monarch team in the past four years.
Life without superstars Tom Lewis and Mike Mitchell hasn't been easy for the defending Southern Section 5-A division champions. The Monarchs may have kept the winning streak intact and have now won 11 straight games in the tournament. But there are some glaring weaknesses that even Coach Gary McKnight can't deny.
There has been the inconsistent play of Stuart Thomas, the 6-foot 9-inch senior who has signed a national letter of intent with Stanford. Thomas led all scorers with 14 points, but he also missed six shots within two feet of the basket.
LeRon Ellis, the highly touted junior transfer from Parkrose High in Portland, is not playing like a 6-10 center. He made only 4 of 16 shot attempts, and, like Thomas, most of those were a heartbeat away from the basket.
The Monarchs' shooting from the backcourt hasn't been good, either. Starting guards Tom Peabody and John Mounce missed their three attempts against a winless Banning team.
It all added up to a 31% shooting performance as Mater Dei made only 15 of 49 field-goal attempts.
Afterward, McKnight had a question for the reporters who gathered around him on the Kellogg Gymnasium court: "Did anybody fall asleep?"
It was the type of game that could inspire a short nap. The Monarchs held a 21-14 lead at halftime, despite making only 6 of 23 field-goal attempts. It got worse as Banning matched its one field goal in the second quarter with one in the third for a total of eight points in two periods.
The Monarchs should be credited with playing excellent defense. Banning scored only 18 points in three quarters of play. But McKnight had trouble seeing anything positive in this game.
"Nobody played well," he said. "We've been up and down so much this year in both our games and practices, I don't know what to do. We're going to get our tails whipped one of these days. It might take a couple of losses to wake us up, or we may never wake up."
Mater Dei has won six straight games this year, but it is scheduled to meet a talented and very quick Inglewood team in the second round at 8:30 Thursday.
"Inglewood is disciplined and very quick," McKnight said. "It's nice to be down to the final eight. We're seeded No. 1 here, but there are a lot of No. 1 seeds here. The tournament is balanced and equal.
"We've won 11 straight in this tournament, but who knows how we'll play in the next round? If we're still playing on Saturday night, we've had a good tournament."