Another underdog is primed for a run at Santa Ana Mater Dei, apparently the best high school basketball team in the Southern Section.
This time it's Millikan of Long Beach, the Moore League champion, mounting the challenge, as did Gardena Serra last season and Huntington Beach Ocean View in 1985.
The big, bad giant role fit the Monarchs perfectly in those seasons for the 5-A title game. They romped to a 27-point win over Serra last season at the Sports Arena and an 11-point decision the season before at the Long Beach Arena over Ocean View.
And now it's Millikan knocking at the door. The Rams (24-3), the second-seeded team in the playoffs, apparently have no fears.
"I don't feel we're the underdogs," said senior forward Shawn Williams, Millikan's leading scorer. "Me and Kenny (Jarvis) and Frankie (Edwards), we'll overcome them. We'll be hyped up. We always want to play an excellent team. It's crunch time.
"We've been looking forward to playing Mater Dei--a lot. We kind of anticipated this from when we would first practice for the playoffs."
Saturday night at 8:45 at the Sports Arena, the Rams will get their chance. Mater Dei (27-1) is beatable, and almost stumbled in Thursday's dramatic one-point semifinal win over Santa Monica St. Monica. But Millikan faces a tremendous challenge.
The Monarchs have 6-11 center LeRon Ellis, the team leader in scoring and rebounding; swing man Kevin Rembert, and the coaching of Gary McKnight. That's a formidable threesome on the court and on the sidelines. The only team to beat Mater Dei this season is Flint Hill Prep of Oakton, Va., in a tournament final in Arkansas. Flint Hill is ranked first in the country in one prep poll.
"It should be a good game," McKnight said after the win over St. Monica. "I don't know if I can take many more good games. (But) I've lost 20 pounds, so at least my blood pressure is doing a little better."
If Millikan is to send its stock and McKnight's blood pressure soaring again, Ellis must be contained. That will be up to Rodney Camper and/or Edwards.
"He'll get his points," Millikan Coach Bill O'Dell said of Ellis. "But we'd like to keep him off the boards and make him shoot with a couple guys around him. He's awfully good.
"But so are the four other guys and the balance they have. I know what they can do, too. They're all very sound basketball players."
This will be the fifth straight appearance in a major division championship game for McKnight and Mater Dei. O'Dell, in his 16th year with the Rams, reached the title game in 1974 at the Sports Arena, where he lost to L.A. Verbum Dei.