YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Blase Monarchs Win Title (Yawn)

Division I-A: Mater Dei players don't celebrate victory over Corona Centennial. They want a state championship.


Mater Dei players acted like they had just won a pick-up game instead of their third consecutive Southern Section Division I-A boys' basketball title Saturday night.

The top-seeded Monarchs had just beaten second-seeded Corona Centennial, 73-62, at the Arrowhead Pond to secure their ninth section title in 10 years.

But Cedric Bozeman, Jamal Sampson and their Mater Dei teammates wore blank stares as they posed for a team picture under a basket. The only one smiling was Monarch Coach Gary McKnight.

While section titles never get old to McKnight, his players have a loftier goal in mind, a state championship.

"The seniors talked the other day," said McKnight, who has coached Mater Dei to each of its 15 section titles. "The main thing on their mind was they wanted to win a state championship."

The Monarchs (29-2) took a step in the right direction Saturday by breaking open a tight game in the final two minutes. Guard Ricky Porter's three-pointer with 1 minute 30 seconds remaining put Mater Dei ahead, 67-59, and Centennial (28-3) could pull no closer than five points the rest of the way.

"They made plays when they needed to," said Husky forward Jamaal Williams, who scored 14 of his 23 points in the second half. "We never got tired. We feel like we could keep playing now."

Bozeman led the Monarchs with 21 points and 10 rebounds, including a three-pointer near the end of the second quarter that gave Mater Dei a 35-32 halftime lead.

Sampson, playing in what he described as "constant pain," scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds despite injuries in both feet. He has a bone spur in his right foot and his left is beset with tendinitis. He hadn't practiced since Tuesday and was on anti-inflammatory medication.

He hobbled up and down the floor gingerly, but his presence was a big factor. After he picked up his fourth foul with two minutes to play in the third quarter and was taken out of the game, Centennial went on a 9-2 run and entered the fourth quarter trailing, 53-49.

Sampson returned to start the fourth quarter and Mater Dei responded with an 8-0 run for a 61-49 lead. Sampson found Bozeman underneath the basket, where Bozeman scored easily. Mike Strawberry sank a shot off the glass in transition, Sampson made two free throws, then put an exclamation point on the run with a dunk.

But the Huskies rattled off seven straight points of their own to cut the deficit to 61-56. Williams scored and was fouled, Erik Soderberg hit one of his two baskets and Williams dunked.

"It was a game of spurts," McKnight said. "We would get a lead and I would think, OK, here we go. But they battled back."

Centennial guard Bryan Gonzales, who made three of five three-point attempts and finished with 15 points, lofted a three-pointer that could have cut Mater Dei's lead to two points with about two minutes to play, but the ball bounced off the rim.

"I thought I had it," Gonzales said. "I just kind of short-handed it a little bit."

Porter's big three-pointer then sealed the outcome.

While Mater Dei moves on to the Southern California Regional, possibly as the top-seeded team, Centennial is left to hope for the at-large berth that will be awarded to one of the three Division I runners-up. The teams playing in championships were ranked one through six before Saturday's games, with the highest-ranked loser advancing to the regional.

"We believe we should be the at-large team," Popov said.

Mater Dei, which fell to Fresno Clovis West in last year's regional final, is determined to advance to the state final this year.

Said Bozeman, wearing a net around his neck: "I don't want to finish my last game not winning a state championship."

Los Angeles Times Articles