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High Schools | BOYS' BASKETBALL DIVISION III STATE
FINAL

Centennial Joins Party in Compton

March 21, 2004|Eric Sondheimer | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Five years of futility in championship basketball games came to a joyous end Saturday for Compton Centennial because of a near-perfect, 32-minute effort that left Coach Rod Palmer beaming with pride and hugging anyone within reach.

"I can't believe it," said Palmer, whose team defeated Oakland Bishop O'Dowd, 60-36, to win the state Division III championship at Arco Arena.

Centennial (32-3) had lost five consecutive years in Southern Section championship games and lost in the 2002 state final.

"What a better way to end [the drought] with a state championship," Palmer said. "It's been a long, draining, sometimes disheartening road, but there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, and we found it."

Leading the way for Centennial was UCLA-bound guard Arron Afflalo, who scored 24 points.

"The last time I was here, I was in tears," said Afflalo, recalling the 2002 state final. "Now I have a big Kool-Aid smile."

Bishop O'Dowd (26-7) was so thoroughly outplayed that through the first three quarters, the Dragons were never able to score consecutive baskets. Centennial led, 30-11, at halftime and was in front by 28 points after three quarters.

"Defensively, we did everything we game-planned for," Palmer said. "Eleven points at halftime is unheard of for a state championship game."

Bishop O'Dowd made only seven of 36 shots entering the final quarter and finished with a shooting percentage of 25.5%.

"[Palmer] put together a great defensive scheme," Afflalo said. "We left the opposing team with nothing to do."

The Apaches fought through screens, rebounded with authority and didn't let Bishop O'Dowd lead for a single second.

"We were focused all week," said senior Chris Berry, who scored 16 points. "We practiced hard. We executed as we were supposed to. This is the greatest feeling in the world."

"We stopped everything they tried to do," Palmer said. "We didn't give them any open looks."

Coming one day after another Compton school, Dominguez, won the Division II championship, the big question being asked was who'd win a game between Dominguez and Centennial?

"I'll talk to [Coach] Russell [Otis] and give you a time," Palmer said. "It would be a tough game."

Afflalo left Saturday night on a plane headed to Chicago to play in the Roundball Classic all-star game on Wednesday. The rest of the Apaches were headed back to Compton, the city of champions.

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