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Centennial Handles Santa Margarita

March 14, 2004|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

As the Southern California Regional Division III championship game wore on Saturday afternoon in the Sports Arena, Compton Centennial decided the only way to defeat Santa Margarita was to bring the Eagles down to its level.

The Apaches forced Santa Margarita's 6-foot-11 center, Todd Follmer, out of the game because of foul trouble early in the third quarter, then took advantage and rallied for a 59-51 victory. Centennial (31-3) advanced to the Division III state final for the second time in three years, where it will play Oakland Bishop O'Dowd on Saturday at Arco Arena in Sacramento.

For most of the first half, it didn't appear the Apaches had the inside presence to make a return.

"We were concerned with their size," Centennial Coach Rod Palmer said of Santa Margarita, which also features 6-8 sophomore forward James Keefe.

Follmer, Keefe and senior guard Tyler Smith helped the Eagles to a 25-23 lead at the half, combining for 23 points and 13 rebounds. But Follmer picked up his third foul on the first possession of the third quarter, then committed his fourth foul three minutes later on a three-point play by Chris Berry that tied the score, 28-28.

"I was just in the middle trying to defend," Follmer said. "The only way I could have avoided [contact] was to jump out of the way."

With Follmer on the bench until early in the fourth quarter, the Apaches went on a 17-8 run. Centennial extended its lead to 51-37 after Follmer fouled out with 4 minutes 5 seconds remaining.

"Once [Follmer] got his fourth, I drew up something for Berry to try and foul him out," Palmer said. "I told Chris, 'Just draw a foul, I don't care about a basket.' That turned the tables."

Centennial sophomore guard Tyre Thompson again picked up the slack for Arron Afflalo, a UCLA-bound guard who was playing his first game in front of Bruin Coach Ben Howland.

A week ago in a 74-63 loss to North Hollywood Harvard-Westlake in the Southern Section Division III-A final, Thompson scored a career-high 35 points, making five of seven three-point tries. He made five of seven three-pointers Saturday, scoring a team-high 20 points.

Afflalo made only four of 19 shots, including three of 14 three-pointers, finishing with 13 points. In the section final against Harvard-Westlake, he scored 15 points on four-for-14 shooting, including three of 13 three-pointers.

Smith scored 22 points, including eight in the last minute to cut the deficit to five, 56-51, with 45 seconds left.

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