In the end, it came down to two free throws, but it shouldn't have.
No, Saturday's Southern Section 3-A boys' basketball final between Hacienda Heights Wilson High School and Pomona Ganesha High School should not have been decided that way. But it was, as Ganesha's Ronald English missed two free throws with eight seconds remaining and his team trailing by one point, and that was the difference as Wilson won, 54-53, in front of 6,373 at the Sports Arena.
But English certainly was not to blame for the loss. Not in a one-point game in which Ganesha was consistently inconsistent, especially in the first half when the Giants missed 7 of 13 free throws. And not in a game in which Wilson's 6-foot-10 center Scott Williams had 27 points and 16 rebounds.
Wilson also got a big game from Neil Weingarten, who had 11 points and 7 rebounds. More importantly, Weingarten shut down Ganesha center Kevin Cutler, who had been averaging 19 points and 13 rebounds a game.
Cutler finished with 12 points and 5 rebounds.
"They (Ganesha) haven't been in many close games," Wilson Coach Mike Lowe said. "We really felt that if we could keep it close, we could make them play not to lose instead of to win.
"It could just as easily be them (winning) instead of us."
So true. Trailing, 50-45, with 3:30 left in the game, Ganesha scored six straight points to take a 51-50 lead. Each score came from within six feet, as Ganesha took advantage of Williams, who had four fouls.
But Williams gave Wilson a 52-51 lead when he made two free throws with 1:30 left, setting up English and his missed free throws.
After English missed, Williams rebounded and passed off to Anthony Delsi, who was fouled and made two free throws with five seconds remaining. Ganesha added a basket at the buzzer to make the final score 54-53.
"I just knew he was going to make one of them," Ganesha Coach Larry Armstrong said of English's free throws. "But you can't blame one person for the loss. We just made too many mental mistakes."
Ganesha came into the final preaching the virtues of its balanced attack, but such balance was not evident Saturday. The only reason the Giants were in a position to win at the end was because of one player--Antonio Johnson, a 6-3, 240-pound junior.
Johnson had 19 points and 9 rebounds off the bench, and in the second half he held Williams to 10 points and 5 rebounds after Williams had dominated the first half.
Johnson also had two key steals in the final two minutes of the game.
"I just thought he single-handedly brought us back on his broad shoulders," Armstrong said.
Johnson didn't have to bring Ganesha back too far, though, as the Giants trailed only 31-24 at halftime. Ganesha pulled within three at the end of third quarter, and three times the Giants led in the fourth quarter, each time on a Johnson basket.