PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The Mater Dei High School basketball team has built quite a reputation in Southern California, having won three Southern Section championships in the past four years, but it seems folks around these parts haven't heard much about the Monarchs.
A Pine Bluff disc jockey, previewing Wednesday night's King Cotton Tournament games on the radio, said Whitehaven High of Memphis, Tenn. would be playing Modder Daya of California.
Toward the end of the preceding game, the public address announcer in the Pine Bluff Convention Center asked that the scorekeeper from Modder Dah report to the table.
Come game time, the PA guy finally got it right and announced the starting lineup for Mater Dei .
Then, the Monarchs went out and showed the crowd of 3,000 exactly who they were as they defeated Whitehaven, 49-47, in overtime.
Mater Dei forward Kevin Rembert, suffering through a miserable game, followed a LeRon Ellis miss with a layup with six seconds remaining for the only points of the three-minute overtime period.
Ezell Calvin's 25-foot, running shot at the buzzer sailed over the backboard, securing Mater Dei's berth in Friday's semifinals, where the Monarchs (11-0 and ranked ninth in the nation by USA Today) will meet 14th-ranked Hialeah Miami Lakes High of Hialeah, Fla.
Rembert provided the happy ending Wednesday night, but Ellis was the show. A 6-foot 11-inch senior who is headed for the University of Kentucky, Ellis scored a game-high 32 points, including all of his team's 15 points in the first period, and had six rebounds and five steals.
Ellis also blocked two shots in crucial situations for the Monarchs in the fourth quarter.
Mater Dei, finally feeling the effects of its seven-hour trip to Arkansas Wednesday, had blown a nine-point third-quarter lead when the Tigers went on a 16-2 run, which gave Whitehaven a 43-38 advantage with 6:36 left in the fourth.
But Mike Hopkins' three-point play pulled the Monarchs to within two and Ellis then blocked Clyde Fletcher's inside shot and scored on a short jumper at the other end to tie it, 43-43.
After a Fletcher dunk and Ellis' two free throws, Mater Dei went ahead, 47-45, on a Rembert follow shot with 3:06 left. Several turnovers and missed shots later, Whitehaven's Calvin made a jump shot from the top of the key with 21 seconds left to tie the score, 47-47.
The Monarchs failed to work the ball inside for a good shot in the final seconds but nearly won the game when Chris Patton recovered an errant pass, turned and launched a one-handed shot from 30 feet that hit the backboard, the front of the rim, the backboard again and bounced out at the buzzer.
Key plays in overtime were Whitehaven's Anthonie Lee missing the front end of a one-and-one with 1:57 left, the referee's nullifying Ernest Smith's tip-in because of offensive goal-tending with 1:52 to go and Rembert's turnover with 1:22 left.
Whitehaven, employing a spread offense, then knocked more than a minute off the clock, but Calvin, guarded by Patton, was called for a five-second violation and turned the ball over to the Monarchs with 16 seconds left.
Hopkins took the in-bounds pass and got the ball inside to Ellis, who missed from the right baseline. But Rembert, in one motion, grabbed the rebound and put it back in for the game-winner.
"I didn't play a great game, but it helped to win it like that," said Rembert, who made only 3 of 10 shots and made two critical turnovers late in the game. "I don't know if I was tired or if it was the flight that affected me."
The Monarchs showed no signs of jet lag in the first half, as they broke the Tiger press and got out to a 30-23 lead. Ellis dominated the first period, scoring twice on alley-oop passes from Rembert. He also scored on a reverse layup off of Patton's alley-oop pass in the second quarter.
But Mater Dei wilted under Whitehaven's pressure in the third quarter, turning the ball over five times and losing a big lead. They recovered just in time to win it.
"I thought we'd keep that nine-point lead in the third quarter, but we got sluggish," Monarch Coach Gary McKnight said. "It looked like we were playing in slow-motion, especially on the press break."
King Cotton Notes: