Theoretically, Birmingham High's plan to starve out 6-9, 230-pound center Gary Gray of Granada Hills inside should have worked.
Birmingham Coach Jeff Halpern cooked up a plan to put Gray on a diet inside by fronting him with 6-6 Keith Owens and posting him low with 6-6 Ennerea Maxwell.
Sort of a 'Ham sandwich.
Gray, however, feasted on the Birmingham defensive offering, scoring 25 points and helping himself to 17 rebounds--both game highs--as Granada Hills upset top-seeded Birmingham, 60-55, in front of 5,013 in the City Section 3-A final at the Sports Arena on Friday night.
Gray, in the words of his coach, Bob Johnson, was "Grrrrrrrreat."
"Do you even need to ask who the best player in the 3-A is?" Johnson asked rhetorically after the game. "You tell me."
Even Halpern admitted that Gray was, well, chewing them up and spitting them out underneath. Halpern likened Gray to the Incredible Hulk. Or maybe that was Bulk.
"He's got some serious bulk in there," Halpern said. "He's a good player, and hard to get out of the way."
Either way, Gray was 11-of-17 shooting, a remarkable performance in light of the defensive assignments Birmingham threw at him.
Once Gray got a good whiff of the hoop in the second half, there was no stopping him. Gray scored 16 points in the second half as Granada Hills built a 10-point lead, 50-40, with two baskets by Gray to open the fourth quarter.
Maxwell kept Birmingham close in the fourth quarter, scoring six of his team-high 21 points as Owens struggled from the field. Owens, who averaged 17 points in the regular season, scored just eight on 3-of-17 shooting.
Birmingham was equally as bad, shooting 33% (22 of 66).
"We had our running game working like we wanted it to," Halpern said. "The shots just weren't falling."
Birmingham scored a mere seven points in the first quarter, and trailed, 30-25, at halftime. Granada led by six, 46-40, heading into the fourth.
Gray gave Granada Hills a 56-46 lead on a right-handed hook at the 3:56 mark. Birmingham cut the lead to seven on a jumper by guard Adam Zuckerman and a free throw by Maxwell, which came with 2:51 left.
On the following possession, Gray was stripped of the ball by Maxwell inside, but Maxwell missed the coast-to-coast layup under pressure on the other end of the court.
Gray missed the front end of a one-and-one with 1:36 left, but teammate Sean Brown snared the rebound and scored, giving Granada Hills a 58-50 lead.
Birmingham came no closer than five after that.
The victory by Granada Hills avenged a second-place finish to Birmingham in the Northwest Valley League in the regular season. Granada Hills won two of three games from Birmingham this season. All of which left Johnson feeling pretty contented and well-fed.
"This is the best I've felt in 19 years of coaching," Johnson said. "It's like a dream come true. I've never had a feeling like this in my entire life."
But Johnson had to admit he wasn't the head chef on this epicurean delight.
"I've never had a team that did this well, but then, I've never had a team with these kind of kids before," he said.
Granada Hills' senior forward Sam Puathasnanon finished with 11 points and Terrell Smith, the Highlanders' other starting senior, added 12.