SACRAMENTO — The winningest boys' basketball coach in California history stood on the court with a lei of red carnations around his neck and tears of joy in his eyes as he locked his arms around every player he could touch.
Lou Cvijanovich, the 72-year-old Santa Clara High coach, let everyone know that the 829th victory of his glorious 41-year career was more than special.
"I was emotional because I love them so much," he said. "These kids have given me their lives."
Led by Nick Jones' 32 points, Santa Clara won the state Division V championship Friday night by defeating Calvary Temple Christian of Modesto, 75-68, at Arco Arena.
Jones was supported by the rebounding of Terrance Dotsy, the ballhandling of B.J. Ward and the hustle of Jason Angell.
Afterward, Cvijanovich proclaimed the Saints (30-3) "the best basketball team I've coached."
And that says plenty coming from a man who started coaching in 1958 at the Oxnard Catholic school and has won three state titles.
"I'll tell you, these kids have been one dedicated, devoted group," he said.
To beat an athletic, sharp-shooting Calvary Temple team, the Saints withstood repeated challenges in the second half. Three times, Calvary Temple closed to within three points after trailing, 40-31, at halftime.
Santa Clara played the final 6:11 of the third quarter without Ward, who was benched with four fouls. Instead of faltering, the Saints expanded their lead to 11 points, with the 6-foot-4 Jones scoring 13 points in the quarter.
Cvijanovich put Ward back in with 7:37 to play, and he finished off the Warriors. His basket with 3:13 left gave Santa Clara a 69-64 advantage. Calvary Temple (32-6) never recovered.
"They were good," Jones said of the Warriors. "They made us work all the way. We kept it together with our composure and patience. We had to match them point for point. Once we started doing that, we knew we weren't going to lose the lead."
Ward, the Saints' All-Southern Section point guard, scored 19 points. Dotsy, a 6-4 senior center, had 13 rebounds and 11 points. Angell made crucial defensive contributions in the second half after a verbal lashing at halftime from his coach.
"They had no recourse," Cvijanovich said. "They were given a few words of wisdom."
Junior guards Nick Tabari and Eric Leong scored 20 points apiece for Cavalry Temple.
The big question was how did Cvijanovich know when to bring back Ward with four fouls?
"If it backfires, you're a bum," Cvijanovich said. "But we've been fortunate through the years knowing his ability, his maturity, his understanding of the game. We put him back in pretty early."
This was a game and a season Santa Clara fans will remember for the exceptional one-two combination of Jones and Ward.
Boyhood basketball buddies, they entered Santa Clara together four years ago with big dreams. They all came true. They each have a scholarship to UC Santa Barbara and now a state championship.
"It's the best feeling in the world, the best feeling in the world," Ward said.
Cvijanovich wonders why more big-time college programs didn't recruit his two top players, but he said, "UC Santa Barbara has gotten themselves two plums. Those two kids are clones of one another."
Jones was magnificent in nine postseason games, averaging 26.0 points. He didn't want the season to end without presenting his coach a state title.
"He's not a coach, he's like a father to me," Jones said.
Added Ward: "This is a lesson we can take with us the rest of our lives--work hard and something good will come about."
Former Santa Clara and UCLA guard Shon Tarver was at the game cheering for the Saints. He returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday night from playing professionally in Japan and learned the Saints were in the state final. "I flew in and this couldn't be better," he said. . . . Cvijanovich gave no indication Friday whether he would soon retire. His wife, Martha, said her husband had hinted before the season that "it would possibly be his last year." But he said, "I'm going to take it easy and see what happens.". . . . Calvary Temple scored 98 and 97 points in two earlier regional games. "That was our motto all week long--we were going to make them play a half-court game," Cvijanovich said. . . . Dotsy's 13 rebounds were crucial to the victory. "[Dotsy] was amazing on the boards," Ward said. Said Jones: "He's been doing it all year. It hasn't been a one-game thing." . . .
A replay of the game will be televised tonight at 7 on Jones Intercable in Oxnard.