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Fairfax Isn't Enjoying the Road

A key loss in City title game to Taft forces highly ranked boys' basketball team to travel to state playoff games.

March 11, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Fairfax is hitting the road for the Southern California Regional boys' basketball playoffs, and the Lions are traveling with a chip on their shoulder.

"A big one," said Coach Harvey Kitani, whose Lions are not among their division's top four seeded teams for the state playoffs, because they lost to Woodland Hills Taft in the City Section final Saturday.

Fairfax (24-5) will be on the road again tonight, when it must travel across two counties to play at top-seeded Oceanside El Camino (31-2) in a Division I semifinal game.

The trip came courtesy of a quarterfinal victory over fourth-seeded Long Beach Poly at Long Beach City College on Tuesday, coupled with El Camino's victory over visiting Huntington Beach Marina.

Stepping onto the bus has been painful because it reminds the Lions that they did not perform when it mattered most -- in the City title game against Taft, losing, 64-60.

"Everyone is playing mad," said Jamal Boykin, a 6-foot-8 junior center. "To tell you the truth, that's a good thing. You play focused, you box-out harder, you go after loose balls better. Everyone really wants it more."

Conceding priority to four others in its division was shocking for a team that, among Southland programs, has been ranked second only to Westchester in nearly every national, state and local publication.

Fairfax defeated El Camino, 58-51, at the California Hoops Challenge in January. Even after the Lions lost both of their Western League showdowns to Westchester, there was little reason to drop them further in the rankings.

Now, the Lions must try to keep their goal alive in unfamiliar gymnasiums, far from home and away from supportive crowds.

"We can't worry about the cards we're dealt," said 6-5 senior guard Josh Shipp, who is headed to UCLA. "This is what we have to do to win everything."

Before the season, Kitani was confident the Lions had the leadership and chemistry to win the Western League, take home a City Section title and win a Division I state championship.

And that was before Westchester, their nemesis the previous two seasons in each pursuit, had its season turned upside down by allegations of illegal recruiting, which ultimately caused a talented transfer to lose his eligibility for the season and the remaining Comets to be banned from the playoffs.

In the City Section final, Shipp was held to 21 points and Boykin to seven, each below their season averages, as the Lions suffered their third straight loss in the title game.

The pain was still evident Tuesday as they prepared for their quarterfinal game against Long Beach Poly, the Southern Section Division I-AA champion. Watching his team, there was little joy in Kitani's expression.

"It has been a tough three days," he said.

But, as Boykin said, it was just such emotion that carried the Lions to a 75-57 victory.

Shipp matched his season average with 30 points and Boykin chipped in 24, including 12 in the third quarter when Fairfax extended its lead from seven to 16 points.

One state playoff victory isn't enough to stop some from questioning this team's abilities.

Some say Fairfax doesn't have enough skill at point guard and others question its depth, wondering who will step up offensively if Shipp and Boykin are shut down.

"The guards on the team are the weaknesses," said Jack Pollon, an assistant at Reseda Cleveland, which lost to Fairfax in a City playoff semifinal. "Shipp is really more of a scorer. He's not a playmaker."

Shipp agreed that he has had to handle the ball more than he would like but said it hasn't been a problem.

"I'm trying to move over to play both positions," he said. "It's good experience for me."

So is playing against tough opponents on the road. After all, the regional final will be held Saturday at the Sports Arena, with a possible rematch against Taft.

The Toreadors (28-2), who play host to Etiwanda (30-2) tonight in the other semifinal, defeated Mission Viejo, 83-69, behind Jordan Farmar's 38 points Tuesday.

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