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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

As postseason progresses, coaches try to keep teams' focus and energy up

The state playoff pairings were released Sunday, and there is little time for rest or basking in the glory of winning a section title.

March 06, 2011|Eric Sondheimer
  • Loyola and Julian Harrell enter the Division I playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the state.
Loyola and Julian Harrell enter the Division I playoffs as one of the hottest… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Players who won basketball championships Saturday probably got a good night of sleep, and they are going to need it because March Madness enters a more challenging phase for high school teams this week.

The state playoff pairings were released Sunday, and there is little time for rest or basking in the glory of winning a section title. The regional playoffs begin Tuesday, and if teams want to earn a trip to Sacramento to play for a state championship the weekend of March 25-26, they will need immediate focus and energy.

It's a tricky time for coaches. Many spent all season emphasizing commitment and sacrifice to win a section title, so how do you keep the players listening and playing hard after accomplishing your main goal?


FOR THE RECORD:
High school basketball: Eric Sondheimer's high school column in the March 7 Sports section said that the Long Beach Poly boys' basketball team had a 29-2 record. Poly's record was 29-1. —

"At this point, 90% of high school teams are gone and disbanded," Los Angeles Loyola Coach Jamal Adams said. "Our family and team is still together, and there's a lot of pride in that. We're trying to stay together as long as possible. That's the motivation. Every time we win, we get to hang out together a couple more days."

Long Beach Poly (29-1) is seeded No. 1, Corona Centennial (27-4) No. 2, Woodland Hills Taft (27-2) No. 3 and Santa Ana Mater Dei (27-3) No. 4 in the Division I boys' regional, but No. 5 Loyola (24-5) might be the hottest team in Southern California. The Cubs have won 13 consecutive games and cruised to the Southern Section Division 1A championship, with 16 points their closest margin of victory. A Loyola-Mater Dei second-round game is looming.

Adams has tried to sell his team on having four seasons.

"We try to segment our seasons into seasons," he said. "December was tournament season, then the league season and the section season. We're fortunate to play our fourth season, and we're 0-0."

Good teams that did not win a section title, such as Etiwanda (28-3) and Mater Dei, will get a second chance, but let's see how interested they are. Mater Dei has not played well in the regional playoffs in recent years. The Monarchs' focus has been on section playoffs. Perhaps having a much younger team this season will lead to an improved state performance.

As far as Etiwanda goes, the Eagles are probably the team that no one wants to face. Poly has played Etiwanda three times over the last two seasons, and every game has been a 32-minute battle. They could meet again in the second round Thursday.

Taft played Etiwanda in a 2004 regional playoff game that is probably the best high school game I've seen. Jordan Farmar scored 38 points, including 27 of his team's 29 in the second half, but Etiwanda won, 57-54, on a layup by Darren Collison with three seconds left. Yes, that was two future UCLA and NBA players going at it.

Players want to keep playing, but a better judge of their enthusiasm will be their body language. It has been an exhausting season physically and mentally for some. That's why teams with good depth can excel in the state playoffs, counting on a quality second-stringer to rise up.

"Oh my gosh, I hope so," Ventura Coach Dan Larson said when asked whether his 2AA championship team will be ready to perform well after a 56-55 overtime win over Mission Viejo. "So much went into beating Mission Viejo, I'm hoping we have something left. We're kind of banged up, but I'm sure everyone is on equal footing."

The Southern California regional finals for Divisions I, II and III will be March 19 at the Galen Center, with Divisions IV and V at Ontario Colony.

Biggest upset

Of all the championship games over the last week, the biggest upset was La Canada's 50-47 win over Los Angeles Price in the 3AA final. Coach Tom Hofman, in his 25th season, called it "the greatest win" in his coaching career.

La Canada had to go double overtime for one playoff victory, then overtime for another before toppling Price and its many future college players.

"This is definitely a team of destiny," Hofman said. "They've shown a lot of guts and determination."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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