Moreno Valley Rancho Verde is the latest boys' basketball team in the fast-growing Inland Empire to prove it belongs among the top teams in the Southland.
The Mustangs have won 13 consecutive games, including a 63-61 Southwestern League victory Friday over Lake Elsinore Temescal Canyon. The Mustangs also knocked off Nevada's top team, Las Vegas Bishop Gorman, last week.
Rancho Verde returns senior starters Kenny Collins, Bryant Williams, Jamar Cannon and Brandon Hampton and has four sophomores and a freshman who receive regular playing time.
"We feel that we're the best team out here," said Collins, a 6-foot-6 swingman who averages 15.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. "Nobody can handle us."
Coach Travis Showalter, who starred at El Segundo and coached at Lawndale Leuzinger before coming to Rancho Verde three years ago, compares Collins, who grew up in Long Beach, with current Miami Heat guard Dorell Wright, whom he coached for one season at Leuzinger.
Wright went on to play as a fifth-year senior at South Kent (Conn.) Prep, then was selected 19th overall in last spring's NBA draft.
Showalter said Collins, who turned 17 last summer, will also look into attending a preparatory school in the fall.
"He can certainly play at the next level," Showalter said. "He can shoot, pass and rebound, and we ask him to do all three."
It would be easy to blame the 10 a.m. tipoff time for the low-scoring game Saturday between La Puente Bishop Amat and La Verne Damien at the Southern California Shootout at Azusa Pacific University.
Bishop Amat won, 29-27, finishing the game about 15 hours after it lost to Playa del Rey St. Bernard, 56-46, in a Del Rey League game. Damien also played Friday night, losing to Glendora, 60-32, in the Sierra League.
Bishop Amat Coach Brandon Ertle said the quick turnaround wasn't as much a factor as was the crisp defense played on both sides.
"We haven't been scoring a whole bunch of points," said Ertle, in his first season after coming over from Santa Fe Springs St. Paul.
Bishop Amat (8-15) already has two more victories than it did last season. The Lancers, who do not have a player averaging double figures in scoring, are scheduled to travel Wednesday to St. Paul. Each is 0-3 in league play.
Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley Coach Brian Mulligan had a sinking feeling when Jonathan Johnson of Lake Forest El Toro made a three-point shot early in their South Coast League game Friday night.
Mulligan had watched the Chargers combine for 25 three-point baskets in two meetings last season.
El Toro finished the night by making 14 of 40 from beyond the three-point line, including a last-second heave by Johnson that tied the score at the end of regulation.
However, Chad de Casas of Capistrano Valley also got hot from outside, hitting two three-pointers in the last 20 seconds of the second overtime and another at the start of the third to give the Cougars the lead for good in an 80-74 victory at Capistrano Valley.
"We shot a lot of threes early," El Toro Coach Todd Dixon said. "We tried to get the ball inside, but they're so good with their help-side defense that they leave the threes open."
De Casas finished with a game-high 36 points, making 14 of 25 shots from the field.
Woodland Hills Taft will play host to Reseda Cleveland on Friday in a rematch of a West Valley League game won by Cleveland, 63-50, two weeks ago. Notable league games on Wednesday include Orange Lutheran traveling to Placentia Valencia in the Empire League and Ontario Colony playing host to Pomona Diamond Ranch in the Mt. Baldy League.