St. Monica High School center Brian Williams lay face down at midcourt of the Sports Arena floor, his 6-foot 10-inch body seemingly stretching from here to the University of Maryland, which he will attend next season.
Williams had just missed a free throw with five seconds remaining that would have tied Mater Dei and almost certainly sent the Southern Section 5-A division semifinal game into overtime. Instead, it was elimination time for Williams and his teammates.
Like so many teams in the past six years, St. Monica came close. Oh, so close. But instead, Mater Dei will advance to the championship game for an unprecedented fifth consecutive time following a 48-47 victory over the Mariners Wednesday night before 5,352 fans.
The Monarchs (27-1) survived a late surge led by Mariner guard Jason Matthews to move into Saturday night's title game against Long Beach Millikan.
Mater Dei appeared to have the game clinched with 5:46 remaining after junior forward Kevin Rembert completed a three-point play for a 42-33 lead. But that's when Matthews went to work.
The 6-3 senior made five straight jump shots in the final quarter, including three down the stretch to help cut the Monarchs' once-safe lead to only one point.
St. Monica (20-7) took a 45-44 lead with 1:28 remaining on Matthews' 16-foot shot, but the Monarchs quickly regained the lead, 46-45, on a short jumper by Rembert.
Now, the game got a little wild. Williams missed an eight-foot baseline shot with 50 seconds remaining, and Mater Dei center LeRon Ellis rebounded. Monarch guard Chris Patton was fouled by Matthews with only 26 seconds left and calmly made two free throws for a 48-45 lead.
The next 20 seconds had to be seen to be believed. The teams fought, dived, crashed and clashed for the basketball near midcourt, and somehow the ball rolled to Williams near the basket. Williams picked up the ball, hit a bank shot and was fouled by Mater Dei's Erik Quigley with five seconds remaining.
"The ball looked like a hot potato out there," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "I wasn't sure what was going to happen, but every time I looked up at the clock, another five seconds were gone.
"Then, the ball rolls to Williams. He looks at it as if to say, 'Look what I found' and scores. Tonight scared me."
McKnight wisely called a timeout to give Williams some time to think about the ensuing free throw. It was Williams' only free-throw attempt of the game, and he missed. Monarch guard John Boyle got the rebound, and the Monarchs ran out the clock.
It seemed only fitting afterward that Ellis was the first player to console Williams while he lay face down on the floor. The heralded matchup between two of the top prep centers in the country was some show.
Williams blocked Ellis' first shot attempt, but the University of Kentucky-bound senior finished with 17 points and had 7 rebounds. Ellis took control in the third quarter, scoring on two crowd-pleasing dunks as Mater Dei opened a 31-21 lead.
Williams had 10 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks but attempted only 5 shots in the second half, with Ellis hounding his every move. Matthews led all scorers with 25 points.