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Verbum Dei Lets It Get Away

March 20, 2004|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Midway through the fourth quarter of the state Division IV boys' basketball championship game Friday, Doni Noble of Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame told his best friend, Alex Harris, during a timeout, "It's the last quarter of our lives. Step up."

"It was like a light bulb went on," Harris said.

Harris responded by scoring 11 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter to enable St. Joseph to defeat Los Angeles Verbum Dei, 49-47, at Arco Arena.

Harris, a 6-foot-5 senior who has committed to UC Santa Barbara, was clapping his hands to alert his teammates that he wanted the ball with 1:46 left. He got the pass and made a three-point shot to give the Pilots (29-6) their only lead of the game at 49-47.

Verbum Dei (21-9), seeking its fourth state title, had opportunities to send the game into overtime after Harris missed the front end of a one-and-one at the foul line with 22 seconds left and Allen Hester missed two free throws with eight seconds left.

But the Eagles, who won their last two playoff games on buzzer-beating shots, couldn't come through again. Senior point guard Mike Pagan missed an open shot from the free-throw line as the buzzer sounded.

"We had the ball in our best player's hands," Coach DeAnthony Langston said. "He's made so many [clutch shots] over his career."

Verbum Dei, despite a front line that measured 6-8, 6-7 and 6-6, was outrebounded, 48-39, including 20-11 on offensive rebounds. The Pilots shot only 26.6% for the game, but three of their five three-point baskets came in the fourth quarter.

Lowell Grissom scored 13 points and had six blocked shots for Verbum Dei, which led by 10 points late in the third quarter.

"I think we got a little [complacent], like we had the game won," Grissom said. "It turns out we didn't."

Verbum Dei committed four turnovers in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, and an eight-point lead vanished.

"In the later stages of the game, they got tired," St. Joseph Coach Don Lippi said. "We had fresher legs. I could sense we had better energy. If we had enough time, I felt we could pull it out."

It was Harris' deciding at the decisive moment to take charge that gave the Pilots their first state title since Jason Kidd, now of the New Jersey Nets, led them to consecutive titles in 1991 and '92.

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