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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA REGIONAL BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS

Mater Dei's Season Ends on Old, Familiar Note

Division I boys: Monarchs run into Crenshaw again, losing for the fourth time in the last five years.

March 16, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The epitaph to the Mater Dei boys' basketball season in four of the last five years--and three of the past four section Division I regional finals--can be summed up in one sentence: And then they played Crenshaw.

And Saturday's 71-66 loss to Los Angeles Crenshaw may be the hardest to take for the Mater Dei seniors, who saw an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and all their energy reserves dissolve in the torrential full-court Cougar press.

"There is no one else in the county we see that can play like that," said Monarch guard Kevin Augustine, who was limited to 13 points and was harassed into 10 turnovers.

"It's also harder when you've already played two games in four days. Late in the game the fatigue sets in. But they just keep running people at you."

Augustine was right. Saturday, it was more Crenshaw's decisive 17-1 run in the final three minutes by Crenshaw that took the game, and next week's state championship final, away from Mater Dei.

Saturday's victory was a triumph in typical Crenshaw style: Twelve conditioned and committed athletes running and pressing all over the floor until the opponent wilts.

"I really thought this time we had them," said Mike Vukovich, who had 15 of Mater Dei's 45 rebounds. "When we were up by 11 in the fourth quarter I thought we had them. But once they get that tempo of theirs going, they are hard to stop. They have a lot of guys who can play, which keeps them fresh."

Before the game, the Mater Dei coaches all stressed that the Monarchs, while willing to run, could not get caught in endless, coast-to-coast sprints with the Cougars.

"We have to control the tempo," Mater Dei Coach Gary McKnight said. "They will run all night long and go 12 deep. We're about seven deep, and two of them are a freshman and a sophomore.

From about midway through the second quarter to midway through the fourth quarter Mater Dei stuck to the game plan. An 11-2 Monarch run, during which Crenshaw missed eight consecutive shots and the Monarchs controlled the defensive boards, pushed Mater Dei to a 34-32 halftime lead that stretched to 61-50 with under five minutes to play.

And then . . .

"They really don't let you run your offense," said forward Tom Lippold, who had 14 points and 10 rebounds. "They get everything all helter-skelter, and just wear you down."

The exhaustion was evident on the Monarchs' faces in the final five minutes. Passes were fumbled, and legs would not obey mental commands to jump when the Cougars took their winning shots.

"It might have helped if we had at least one more day to prepare," guard David Castleton said. "All we had Friday was some videotape watching and a walk-through. With these guys, you can't just 'walk through.'

"Their pressure is unbelievable. One reason you didn't see us get many good shots tonight was because every time we caught a pass they were in our faces."

Well there is next year. Should Mater Dei win another section title, and win two more regional playoff games, it's a good bet who their opponent will be in the finals.

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