Santa Ana High School's reign as the top-ranked basketball team in the Orange County may be short-lived, and the Saints have only themselves to blame.
Westminster built a a 19-point first-half lead, then held off two late rallies for a 72-66 victory Wednesday night in a nonleague game at Santa Ana. It was the first loss of the season for the Saints (10-1), who assumed the top spot in the county after winning the Irvine World News Tournament last Saturday.
But the Saints didn't go down easily. After falling behind, 64-49, with 2:29 left, they scored nine consecutive points to pull within six with 1:27 remaining.
Bobby Joyce had seven of the points, twice stealing inbounds passes and scoring layups. Santa Ana had opportunities to get even closer as Westminster missed two one-and-one free throws in the final minute.
The Lions iced the game on free throws by Peter Nguyen and James Li.
"We knew going into the season that we wouldn't go undefeated," Santa Ana Coach Greg Coombs said. "But I'll take 10-1."
What Coombs couldn't stomach was the sloppy play his team demonstrated. The Saints committed 25 turnovers, contributing to Westminster's big lead.
"Obviously this was a game where we were not ready to play," he said. "Westminster played a game last night and looked a little sharper."
The Lions (5-4) needed little help in getting ready to play.
Besides losing earlier in the season to the Saints, they were still upset about having to forfeit three victories because of an ineligible player. Losing a close game to Servite on Tuesday only added to Westminster's determination.
"Yeah, we had some things to prove," said center Chris Tower, who had a team-high 20 points. "I didn't like having to give away games we've already won."
"The kids were still seething from last night's loss (to Servite)," Coach Dick Katz said. "And they remember being ahead of Santa Ana with four minutes left in the game the last time we played."
The Lions began the game playing with a vengeance. Leading, 8-7, they scored 10 consecutive points, mostly off turnovers, and led, 27-12, at the end of the first quarter.
Mark Austin, who scored 15 points, and Eric Kutas, who had 12, helped extend that lead to 19 with 4:13 left in the second quarter. Both were able to beat defenders for easy layups.
"You have to remember that this is a team that is 8-2 without the forfeits," Coombs said. "They are very good. I was just happy that we kept fighting."
Santa Ana pulled to within 12 at halftime, mostly on the play of Joyce and Scootie Lynwood, who finished with 16 points.
That pattern continued in the second half. Westminster would build a lead only to have Santa Ana chip away.
"I think our kids got that big lead and thought we had the game won," Katz said. "Santa Ana almost took it away from us. If they would have played the whole game like they did in the last quarter, we would have been in trouble."
In the Carson City Tournament:
Lakewood 82, Foothill 70--Dwayne Camper scored 22 points and his brother Victor 18 for Lakewood in the tournament final. Lakewood opened a 19-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and extended the margin to 41-24 at the half.
Greg Rieber scored 17 for Foothill (6-2) and teammate Rusty Van Cleave added 12. Dan Abel scored 10 points and had 6 rebounds, also for Foothill.
In a nonleague game:
Long Beach Wilson 73, Huntington Beach 68--Rich Hughes scored 20 points for Huntington Beach, which lost at home after having 10-point halftime lead. Huntington Beach opened a 43-33 lead at the half and led, 56-54, at the end of three quarters.
Jeff Long added 15 for Huntington Beach (3-6).