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Cotton Leads Mater Dei to Victory : Prep basketball: Freshman scores 36 points as Monarchs advance to regional final by beating Fresno Bullard, 84-68.


HUNTINGTON BEACH — Mater Dei's basketball team looked to the future and it looked bright.

Schea Cotton, the Monarchs' fab freshman, took his game to a higher level, leaving Fresno Bullard standing flat-footed Thursday. Cotton scored 36 points in a 84-68 victory at Ocean View High School that put Mater Dei in Saturday's Southern California Division I Regional final.

The Monarchs (33-0), ranked No. 2 in the nation by USA Today, will play Crenshaw (24-5), ranked fifth. Crenshaw defeated Mater Dei, 63-61, in last season's final.

That the Monarchs have another crack at Crenshaw is due mainly to Cotton.

"Every time I see him play, he does something I've never seen before," Monarch guard Miles Simon said.

What Cotton did this time was help the Monarchs avert disaster.

Cotton scored 18 points in the first half, when the Monarchs were struggling. The score was tied, 33-33, at halftime, but Bullard (25-4) was clearly pressing the issue while Mater Dei was stressing.

Simon, the Monarchs' sharp-shooting senior, was having an off-night. He finished with 21 points, but made only seven of 19 shots.

Center Shaun Jackson, who averages 14 points, spent the game in foul trouble and was scoreless at the half. Clay McKnight, a three-point specialist, couldn't seem to free up for a shot.

So that left Cotton, a tenderfoot when it comes to these sort of pressure games. But, on Thursday, ability, not experience, mattered.

"Schea just put us on his shoulders," Monarch Coach Gary McKnight said. "Have you ever seen a freshman do that in a state playoff game?"

Cotton scored six consecutive points late in the second quarter to blunt a 9-2 Bullard run and keep the Monarchs close. It was a preview of coming highlights.

Mater Dei put away the game with a 15-4 run to start the fourth quarter. Cotton scored eight of the points.

He dunked off a lob pass from McKnight on one possession. The next time down, Cotton went base line for another slam and the Monarchs led, 68-51, with 3 minutes 54 seconds left.

Cotton made 14 of 19 shots, including six dunks, despite being double-teamed almost every time he touched the ball.

"I felt a lot more emotional out there tonight," said Cotton, who transferred from Bellflower St. John Bosco in December. "I felt I had to get hyped up. There was so much riding on this game."

The rest of the Monarchs seemed to catch that enthusiasm in the second half. Mater Dei scored 51 second-half points.

Jackson, who picked up his third foul early in the second quarter, scored 11 points in the second half. He had six during a four-minute stretch in the third quarter.

"When Shaun gets the ball around the post, he creates havoc," McKnight said.

Simon caused a little chaos as well. Although he shot poorly, he had 11 rebounds and smothered Bullard's Shannon Taylor.

Taylor, who averages 21, scored 15, but made only five of 20 shots. The Monarchs also closed down center Kevin Swillis. He scored six points in the first five minutes, but scored only six more the rest of the way.

"Sometimes you got to find other ways to help the team," Simon said.

And, on Thursday, Cotton was the way.

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