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CRENSHAW : 'The Pit' or the Players : Opponents Find the Arena as Intimidating as the Crenshaw Five

February 25, 1988|ROBERT WALLACE | Times Staff Writer

It was standing room only when Dorsey's basketball team played host to nationally famous Crenshaw in The Pit recently. The Dons were determined not to be overwhelmed by the Cougars, who were ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today. And for three quarters, they were successful.

Crenshaw was missing free throws. The Dons were running with the Cougars and consistently beating their trap. They intercepted a few passes. They even had the gall to try an alley-oop.

It didn't work, but that didn't matter. The fact was Crenshaw was ahead only 63-57 in the third and were somewhat rattled. Their star, John Staggers, had just shot an air ball three-pointer. Though Staggers later dunked with the left hand, the "Shaw" just could not shake the Dons as it had many opponents and led only 67-63 with 30 seconds left in the third quarter.

But in the fourth quarter, something happened. Dorsey didn't know. Only a champion would know. In the first 30 seconds, Crenshaw forced two turnovers, had a steal and scored two layups. Five more layups--including two double-pump scoops by Staggers--another forced turnover, two more steals and three free throws later, the scoreboard read 86-67, Crenshaw.

In just over two minutes, Crenshaw had outscored Dorsey by 19-4.

Several seconds later, a Dorsey player said some unkind things to an official, and it was time to shoot technical foul shots. Make that four more points.

When the final buzzer rang, what was once a 67-63 game was 118-94. The explosion finally happened. Crenshaw scored 49 points in the fourth quarter. It's no wonder that they're 22-0, 10-0 in the Central League.

What looked to be one of the Crenshaw's few close games turned into another rout. Rout has been almost synonymous with Cougar basketball since Willie West became coach in 1971 and coached NBA players Marques Johnson, John Williams, Darwin Cook and Syracuse star Stephen Thompson, among many others.

And the basketball factory on 11th Street in Central Los Angeles has four more stars moving to the college ranks after this season: Staggers to Texas-El Paso, Ronnie Winbush to Long Beach State, Cornelius Holden to Louisville and Douglass Meekins to the University of Washington.

And if it isn't Staggers, Meekins, Holden, Winbush or the rest of the supporting cast that overwhelms opponents, it could be the building. The ceiling of Crenshaw's gym looks somewhat like Boston Garden.

"I think they get intimidated being in that gym," Staggers said.

"They probably see all the flags in here and get scared," Holden said.

Those flags represent some of Crenshaw's awesome achievements. Since West became coach, Crenshaw has compiled a 384-42 record, nine city titles, three state titles and a world/international title in 1985.

But don't think the Cougars have won by just being an offensive machine.

Want to know what it's like to be a steak thrown into a lion's cage?

Try bringing the ball up against Crenshaw. Fremont Coach Sam Sullivan said it is the Cougars' pressure defense that demoralizes opponents.

"People don't realize that Crenshaw gets 75% of its points off its defense," Sullivan said. "They had one spurt against us where they ran off eight points in 30 seconds. I've seen them run off 12 in a row in a minute. They can score so quickly and demoralize you."

Palisades Coach Jerry Marvin didn't want that to happen. He was determined to turn show time into slow time. In their two games against Crenshaw this season, the Dolphins used a deliberate style and led at half time in both games.

Then the inevitable happened. Crenshaw came back to win both games: 82-68 and 95-72.

"They play a very fast tempo," Marvin said. "It's tiring for our kids."

Yes, it sounds like the same old song for the Cougars. Relentless defense plus fast breaks--with the usual tomahawk dunks--equal high scores and usually an undefeated season.

"I think this is one of their better teams in the last 10 years," Sullivan said. "They don't have the one dominant player but they have a better overall team. When John Williams was there (a few years ago), they were pretty much a one-man gang." And here's a scary thought. Despite being the only undefeated team in the City, West said two weeks ago the Cougars were not yet playing to potential.

"We've played as well as we could, but some games we haven't been as consistent," West said. "It takes us longer to get motivated against some teams, but that happens to everybody."

West remembers what happened last season when Crenshaw was eliminated in the City semifinals by Cleveland. And Crenshaw plays in a league in which five of the six teams are ranked in the top 10 in the City by the latest Los Angeles Times poll, making a City championship difficult to come by.

"Our league is such that if you lose one game, you could end up in second place," West said. "Everybody is close, like Fremont and Westchester. Some teams play well against us for a couple of quarters. Some teams lead at half time.

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