BEVERLY HILLS — It is hard to imagine that with the graduation of all five starters from last year's co-West Valley League champion, Cleveland High might be better this year.
But after the Cavaliers defeated Birmingham, 70-55, in the quarterfinals of the Beverly Hills boys' basketball tournament Wednesday, Coach Andre Chevalier said that might be the case.
"This is probably a better team than last year's," Chevalier said. "They are more athletic, more disciplined and we're deeper, and they are easier to coach."
Cleveland meets Agoura on Friday at 6 p.m. in the semifinals. Two-time defending champion Palisades plays Venice in the other semifinal Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The addition of transfers Kent Dennis and Quante Randolph to the starting lineup has eased Cleveland's loss of All-Valley forward Donald Holt and shot-blocking specialist Mike Schultz.
Dennis, a junior who played two seasons in the shadow of Arizona-bound Ruben Douglas at Bell-Jeff, is averaging close to 25 points a game.
Randolph, who played at Artesia last season, is a rebounding force.
The Cavaliers (4-3) have converted their new talent into defensive success.
Against Birmingham, last year's East Valley League champion, Cleveland employed a full-court press the entire game and forced 21 turnovers. The Cavaliers held the Braves (3-1) to 22-of-61 shooting (36%). The Braves scored only seven points on two-of-14 shooting in the third quarter.
"That's always the forte at Cleveland--the defense," Chevalier said. "The last two games we've played with some things. We're working on getting better."
Dennis had 21 points, 10 rebounds and five steals.
"I'm trying to get him to focus on his defense and rebounding," Chevalier said. "Scoring comes so easy for him."
Brian Smith had 14 points for Cleveland.
Cleveland, which led, 33-24, at halftime, had a 61-41 lead with three minutes to play before Chevalier cleared his bench.
Birmingham's Emmanuel Evans scored 11 of his 22 points in the final three minutes.
Agoura 82, Hamilton 73--A day after outrunning Canoga Park, the Chargers again more than held their own against a quicker City Section team in an up-tempo game and established themselves as the surprise of the tournament.
Senior center Brandon Meyer, in his first season on the Agoura team, was a force against the full-court trapping defense of the Yankees (3-3). Meyer had 33 points, 10 rebounds--seven offensive--and five steals.
The 6-foot-7 Meyer, academically ineligible last season, has 46 points and 20 rebounds in two tournament games.
Meyer made 14 of 19 shots and was five for five on free throws.
The Chargers (3-0) made six free throws in the final minute.
Agoura closed the third quarter on a 13-2 run, capped by Josh Lewensohn's three-point basket at the buzzer, and held a 64-55 lead.
Marcus Helfman had 15 points, 10 rebounds, eight steals, six blocked shots and six assists for Agoura.