Mater Dei High School's streaking basketball team, having conquered all in the CIF Southern Section, opens play at 7:30 tonight in the Division I Southern California Regionals against Fresno Edison in Cal State Fullerton's Titan Gym.
The game is another step toward the state championship game March 22 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Arena.
The Monarchs (29-0) are coming off an 86-59 win over Serra in the 5-A division championship game. It was the third large-school title for Mater Dei in the past four years and its 58th consecutive victory.
Edison, which lost to eventual state champion Crenshaw in the Southern California Regional final last season, has a winning streak of its won. It struggled to a 5-5 record at the start of the season but has won 18 straight.
Mater Dei, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, received a first-round bye in the regionals. Gary McKnight, Mater Dei coach, flew to Fresno on Tuesday to watch Edison defeat City 3-A champion Marshall, 76-54, to set up tonight's meeting.
"They start five great athletes," McKnight said. "They press and like to fast break. They're very similar to Serra. They play a great perimeter game and love to shoot the ball."
Edison's top player is guard Dave Barnett, who scored 23 points in the win over Marshall. He has averaged 26.3 points in the last six games. Point guard Andre Sims scored 18 points, and forward Charles Ross added 17 on Tuesday. Steve McClelland, a 6-foot 6-inch center, is Edison's tallest player.
Guards Tom Peabody and John Mounce will be key figures for Mater Dei against Edison's press. Both handled Serra's press well in the 5-A title game.
"You take those two for granted until somebody else goes in the game for them, and then you notice how important they are to this team," McKnight said. "LeRon (Ellis) and Stu (Thomas) both got the credit for the win against Serra, but our two guards played a big role in the victory. They've been underrated all season."
Ellis, a 6-10 junior center, has been outstanding in the playoffs. He scored 22 points in a semifinal win over St. Bernard and then was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player following his 30-point effort against Serra.
"From Day One until now, I've never had a player improve as much as LeRon," McKnight said. "The talent was always there. Now, he's added the necessary concentration and intensity to be a great player.
"It's scary to think he's only 16 years old. When you watch him on the court, he doesn't look big because he's so graceful. He's made it look easy for us."
After the Serra game, McKnight said: "This is a special group because a lot of them played a supporting role to star players, and now they have their own championship."