Chris Tower, Westminster High School's 6-foot 9-inch center, wears the nickname "Black Hole" on his warmup jersey for good reason.
"Whenever the ball goes inside to him, it never comes back out," explained Dick Katz, Westminster coach. "When you've got a 6-9 center, you want him to have the ball."
Tower proved to be a point of no return on Wednesday night, scoring 25 points in the Lions' 64-60 win over Mission Viejo in the semifinals of the Santa Ana Elks Tournament.
Tower made five of six free-throw attempts in the decisive fourth quarter, including two with 10 seconds remaining to clinch the win. The Lions made only one field goal in the last quarter but were 9 of 13 at the free-throw line to hold off Mission Viejo.
Westminster (5-0) executed a patient offensive attack created to get easy layups or draw fouls in the fourth quarter, and the ploy changed the complexion of the game.
Mission Viejo (1-3) opened with 23 points in the first quarter behind forward Tom Tkach and had a three-point lead at halftime. But Eric Kutas made a three-point shot with 5:45 remaining in the third quarter to give the Lions a 57-50 lead. The closest the Diablos could get was two points the remainder of the game.
"This was our fifth game in seven nights, so we haven't had much time to practice on some things we need to correct," Katz said. "This group knows it can score points, and tends to let up defensively.
"I thought we played with good intensity to open the second half and showed good patience down the stretch. But we still have a long ways to go."
Mission Viejo, which has won 81 games in four years coming into this season, appears to have another talented team, but Coach Bob Minier questioned his team's mental toughness.
"The potential for another winning team is there," Minier said. "But we can't seem to sustain any consistency. We got into a groove in the first half, and then Westminster took us out of our rhythm in the second half."
Bolsa Grande 63, Buena Park 49--A five-point play with 42 seconds remaining in the third quarter helped the Matadors gain their third victory in five games.
Connie Epperson made a three-point shot and teammate Mark Pincombe was fouled on the play. Pincombe made two free throws to complete the five-point play, and Bolsa Grande had a 41-35 lead.
Graddy Hunter, Buena Park forward, led all scorers with 27 points and added 15 rebounds. Hunter made 13 of 20 shots, most of them coming from the 5-to-10-foot range. Epperson had 22 points for the Matadors.
Both teams were missing their top players. Gary Hunter of Buena Park is recovering from an inflamed tendon in his knee, but is expected to return next week. Joe Small of Bolsa Grande twisted his ankle after two minutes and missed the remainder of the game.
In the Beverly Hills Tournament:
Mater Dei 71, Buena 66--The Monarchs trailed by as many as nine points in the third quarter but rallied to gain their sixth victory without a loss.
Buena held a 55-49 lead going into the last quarter but guards Dylan Rigdon and Mike Hopkins led the Monarchs' comeback. Roelen made two, three-point shots and Hopkins had 10 points in the quarter as Mater Dei advanced to the semifinals against Beverly Hills at 9 p.m. Friday.
The Monarchs made six of eight free-throw attempts in the last quarter to seal the victory. Buena was in control through most of the game, making 23 of its 44 shots. Rigdon led the Monarchs with 19 points. Buena's Shawn Kirkeby led all scorers with 22 points.
In the Fountain Valley Tournament:
Servite 81, Cypress 59--Brian Kenney scored 12 points, had 7 rebounds and 8 assists to lead Servite (3-2) in the consolation round. It marked the first time this season that Kennedy has been held under 20 points. Nick Marusich scored 16 points and had 13 rebounds for Servite, which shot 65% (38-of-68) from the field.
In the Fountain Valley Tournament:
Fountain Valley 66, Compton 54--Kevin Anderson scored 17 points and Jim Borgquist scored 13 for Fountain Valley (2-0) in a first-round game.
Steve Grack scored 11 for Fountain Valley, which plays Woodbridge tonight at 7:30 in one semifinal game.
Woodbridge defeated El Dorado, 91-48, also in the first round.
West Torrance 84, El Modena 69--Ramsey Rycraw scored 18 Robbie Pietsch 16 and Nate Bogan 14 for El Modena (1-2), which lost in the consolation round.
In the San Clemente Tournament:
S.D. Lincoln 85, San Clemente 46--The Tritons were outscored, 43-6, in the first half and lost their fourth straight game of the season. Brian Reichard led San Clemente with 11 points and point guard Mike Peters added 10 points.
Foothill 81, Capistrano Valley Christian 42--The Knights held a 35-13 lead at halftime and coasted to their second victory of the season. Bill Mazurie (15 points), Kory Combs (16) and Rusty Van Cleave (14) all scored in double figures for Foothill.
In the Sunny Hills Tournament: