Mater Dei's Xavier Johnson, shown leaping in the air during the Southern… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Elijah Brown, the son of Lakers Coach Mike Brown, did something Saturday in the Division I Southern California Regional final that would have brought his father to his feet clapping with pride and joy.
Brown dove for a loose ball in the first quarter against Fresno Bullard, scrapped and clawed for the ball, then flipped it to Santa Ana Mater Dei teammate Xavier Johnson, who made a layup, was fouled and completed a three-point play. Brown's hustle was contagious and sent a message of toughness and unselfishness.
Mater Dei (33-2) went on to secure an 85-66 victory over Bullard at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, earning a spot in next Saturday's 8 p.m. Division I state championship game against Sacramento Sheldon at Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento.
Mater Dei will be seeking its ninth state title in Coach Gary McKnight's 30 seasons as coach.
Coaches want their teams and players to reach peak form in March, and there's no doubt that Mater Dei's 6-foot-7 Xavier Johnson is doing just that. He has been delivering one productive game after another in the post season.
He had 20 points in the first half Saturday, when Mater Dei opened a 42-34 halftime lead. He finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Stanley Johnson added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Katin Reinhardt had 15 points, and Brown 14.
"Xavier was very strong inside," McKnight said. "We quit turning the ball over and played very good defense."
Aaric Armstead scored 33 points for Bullard.
Bullard (31-4), which defeated Westchester, Woodland Hills Taft and Long Beach Poly to reach the regional final, showed defensive spunk, trying to pressure the Monarchs all over the court. But the Monarchs displayed their own toughness and were much more accurate shooting. Mater Dei made 30 of 59 shots. Bullard was 21 of 63.