Another challenger to the Crenshaw throne has fallen when it counted most.
Crenshaw High School chalked up its third straight City 4-A boys' basketball title and ninth in the past 16 years Friday night as guard Stephen Thompson, a two-year starter, scored 29 points and forward Ronald Caldwell added 23 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Cougars to a 95-79 victory over Cleveland before a crowd of 10,434 at the Sports Arena.
Next up for Crenshaw (23-2) are the Southern California Regionals as it continues the defense of its State title.
Cleveland (16-8) also got a fine game from its star senior, forward Trevor Wilson. He scored 27 points, but only two in the fourth quarter. He also grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds.
"I'm happy and I'm very pleased," Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell said of the season. 'Obviously, I'm disappointed to lose. I've been telling the kids all season that you can't like to lose.
"Crenshaw is a great team. I'm not taking anything away from them, but nobody expected us to be here. Cleveland deserved to be here. Nobody else."
So how long will the Crenshaw reign run? Well, all five starters will graduate, which at first seems like good news to the rest of the City. But one has only to look back to this same point last year, when they knew only one player would be returning.
As was the case in the championship game of '85 against Manual Arts, Crenshaw came in as the prohibitive favorite, but it was clinging to a narrow lead at halftime.
Crenshaw put together a 17-7 run in the final 4:10 of the first quarter to go up, 21-17, only to have Cleveland come back early in the second quarter with three baskets from reserve forward Antoine Shofner to tie it, 23-23.
But Crenshaw had the advantage at the intermission, 43-39, with Caldwell having scored 13 points and Thompson 12. Wilson, who is headed for UCLA, led Cleveland with 14 points, while Shofner had 12.
Thompson, still wearing a bandage after cutting the middle finger of his left (shooting) hand while repairing his car, got his first basket 2:16 into the game but was then held to only one more field goal the rest of the first quarter.
He came out late in the third quarter, after getting up slowly when fouled by Cleveland's Andre Anderson, but only after scoring 11 points in the quarter. Crenshaw outscored Cleveland, 27-19, in the third quarter, including the final seven points, and led, 70-58, at the start of the fourth, when Thompson returned.
"We knew we had to come on strong in the second half," Thompson, the tournament's most valuable player, said. "We didn't want it to be the last 16 minutes of our season."
Added Caldwell: "We weren't worried. We knew we would outlast them in the third and fourth quarters.'
Crenshaw's other slightly injured starter, forward Dion Brown, had eight first-half points. Coach Willie West said Brown's left ankle is still not 100% after he sprained it the day before the semifinal victory over Carson, but it didn't look weak on a dunk following a picture-perfect alley-oop pass from Troy Batiste.
Despite having to leave the game when he picked up his fourth foul with 4:08 left in the third quarter and finally fouling out with 1:49 to play, Brown hit seven of seven shots for 14 points.